New York-Ivonne Beltran, 28, is in her first year of medical school at Loyola University. Her sister, Leidy, 24, moved to New York City to work as a photographer. Both are undocumented immigrants currently protected by Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA). Only one is certain that, this time next year, she will still be in the U.S.
DACA is a program that allows undocumented young immigrants to study and work legally in the United States. In September, President Donald Trump threatened to end DACA, leaving people like Leidy and Ivonne Beltran in a state of uncertainty.
In 1996, Ivonne and Leidy’s parents moved their family from their native Colombia to New York, leaving behind the difficulties of Latin America. In their quest for the American Dream, the Beltrans entered the U.S. on a tourist visa, and settled in New Rochelle, New York. The sisters have been without proper paperwork since.
Ivonne’s status as medical student at Loyola entitles her to protection by her university. Leidy, unsecured by her job, is more vulnerable to deportation. “If DACA ends, I have the chance of getting deported,” Leidy Beltran explained. “I’m praying, it doesn’t end, I have no other plan.”
The Beltrans’ difficulties did not start with Trump’s announcement in September. Upon their arrival in 1996, the sisters experienced discrimination because of their Hispanic roots. “We did not know the language and the teachers at school were not sensitive to that,” said Ivonne, who was only 7 years old when she moved to the U.S. But their parents learned English, worked at several deli shops, and sold perfumes on the side to the small Hispanic community in New Rochelle, in order to afford the cost of renting a small apartment for several years.
Because they were undocumented immigrants, Ivonne and Leidy couldn’t live a normal life. “I started understanding what not having paperwork meant, cause I didn’t have a driver’s license and I couldn’t travel like the rest of my friends did,” Ivonne said.
A few years later after they moved to the United States, the Beltran sisters remember that their family desperately looked for the correct lawyers to submit their paperwork and acquire legal status in the country. But the attorneys the family were working with “were very inefficient and uninformed,” Ivonne said.
Unfortunately, in 2001, the paperwork got lost. “That was our last hope, basically,” Leidy said.
Until Obama announced the DACA program.
Ivonne first applied for DACA in 2013. She had not applied to the program when it was first announced because she wasn’t sure exactly what it was. “Undocumented people feared that DACA was just a way to get our information and then deport us,” Ivonne said. But as the program started getting more popular among undocumented immigrants, Ivonne decided to apply and pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor.
After completing her undergraduate studies, she came across “this wonderful organization called ‘Pre Health Dreamers,’ which was founded by DACA students who are trying to go to med school,” Ivonne explained. Pre Health Dreamers supports students enrolled in DACA by sponsoring their graduate school funding through an initiative called Trinity Health. It’s hard to be a DACA student “because we don’t get federal funding, we get loans from some type of private organization,” said Ivonne.
If Ivonne is unable to renew her DACA, which expires in November of 2018, her school will protect her and other DACA students by keeping their immigration status confidential and securing their funding. “There is a lot of uncertainty, but my school is taking it one step at a time and promised to support us whatever happens,” Ivonne said.
Leidy seized the DACA opportunity far faster than her sister. She began applying as soon as DACA was enacted. “When I heard about DACA, I cried,” Leidy said. “It just opened up so many opportunities, I could get a real job and a driver’s license.”
Before she applied for DACA, Leidy feared she would get deported when she was once pulled over by police for speeding. She didn’t have a driver’s license. She thought that “he was going to arrest me, but I got away with it,” she said. When she confessed she went to court and only had to pay an $800 fee.
But with DACA, her life changed completely. Leidy moved to New York City to pursue a career in photography. Without the work permit “it is very difficult for companies to hire you because they can get in trouble for hiring undocumented people,” she said. But with this program she’s been able work at a professional photography studio, where she’s in charge of doing headshots and portraits.
If Leidy is unable to renew her DACA, which expires in September of 2018, she’s at risk of getting fired from her job and, ultimately, of getting deported. “If Trump ends DACA it would be very life-changing because this is all I know,” said Leidy, who was 3 when her family moved to the U.S.
“I don’t know any history behind Colombia,” added Leidy. “This is all I know, this is my country, not Colombia.”