“When we first got DACA I was able to dream,” Marisa Calero told a group of about 75 people gathered Sunday evening at the corner of Orange and Front streets.
Her journey from undocumented and afraid to studying for a nursing degree in Missoula is the stuff of dreams. All the people holding signs were there to show support for DACA recipients, and as Marisa and Nereyda Calero spoke, they cheered in the late summer sun.
DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program instituted by the Obama administration in 2012 that allowed young people brought into the United States by their parents without documents protection from deportation and permission to work, study, and obtain driver’s licenses. The recipients had to be younger than 31, had to have lived in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007, and had to have come to the United States before they were 16 years old. They also are required to be without criminal records and must be enrolled in high school or college.
It is not an easy program to be a part of and does not offer a direct path to citizenship. What it does offer is a chance to study, learn, get a job, start a business or do many things that people without documents are unable to do.
That’s what Marisa and Nereyda — Mexicans by birth — have done since they were granted DACA status.
Both work in area hospitals, Marisa in the operating room and on the cardiac floor and Neyreyda as an EMT and on the cardio-respiratory floor. Marisa is studying at both Missoula College and the University of Montana to complete her prerequisites for nursing school while Nereyda was considering doing the same until President Trump’s decision last week to halt DACA.
“If this comes to a permanent resolution, I’ll go into nursing. But if not…” and she trails off.
Both wanted to go into nursing because they had to translate doctor’s appointments for their families — parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. “We had to translate for citizens and people with green cards,” Marisa says. They were not able to pursue those dreams until DACA.
Marisa came to the United States in 1996 when she was 5 years old. Neyreda came in 1997 when she was 8. And until 2012, their goals of education and employment in the medical field were on hold. “But DACA meant the world, we had a whole different view with more freedom,” Marisa says. “We couldn’t work at the hospital or go to school (previously).”
But even though they can now, they still run into prejudices.
“I’ve had comments at work, people telling me you’re taking American jobs,” Marisa says. “I’m working hard for it.” At one point, Nereyda said a woman called her a terrorist.
“Even when we go grocery shopping and we speak Spanish to our kids, we get the look,” of accusation, of not belonging, Marisa says.
The protest today was organized in part by the Montana Human Rights Network. Rachel Carroll Rivas, the co-director of MHRN said through an amplifier, “Words matter, policy matters, where we spend our money matters.”
The event was organized originally in memory of Scott Nicholson, a human rights worker who passed away in June and had done huge amounts of work in Latin America. Carroll Rivas said that combining his memorial with a rally for DACA recipients was a no-brainer.
She also estimates that some 200 DACA recipients are in Montana currently, but those numbers are iffy.
But those numbers fall away because at the corner of Orange and Front, Marisa takes the microphone and begins to speak.
She talks about coming into the country, about how hard it was as a child. After she speaks to the crowd she tells about how her family was caught crossing the border and she was interrogated, “like an adult,” by ICE agents, which is why her children don’t know about the predicament she’s in so they can’t be put in danger because of it.
But the one thing that comes through in her speech, the thing she says twice to hammer it in, is “I am an American by heart, if not by paper.”