Maria Alejandra

Image: Rolando Rivas

Raised in a household where even buying fruit was a luxury, Maria Alejandra began working at age 14, graduated from Sarasota Military Academy and, now, at 22, is nearing a degree in theology from Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. Alejandra is also a “Dreamer,” one of 787,000 immigrants who came to the United States as children, qualified for legal status under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and, after the Trump administration rescinded DACA, now fear for their future.

I was 16 months old when my parents brought me and my brother here from Colombia. My father did not see a future for us because the drug cartels had made life so dangerous. We moved to Sarasota when I was 10 and my parents divorced the next year.”

My mother worked as a house cleaner and a nanny. Because we were undocumented, we had to keep a low profile. You could not get sick because there was no way we could pay the medical bills. We could not get in trouble in school because it would mean my mom would have to leave her job early and we would not have enough money the next week for food. A man was sexually harassing me and my mom, but my mother told me, ‘Maria, we cannot go to the police. The risk of being deported is a greater threat than this man.’”

In 2012, when President Obama approved DACA, it changed everything. I felt like I could do something with my life. The fear of driving or walking on the street was over. We thought, ‘This is when we start moving up in the world.’”

I started at State College of Florida, taking three or four classes a semester, while working three jobs. My day began at 5 a.m. on my medical job, then afternoons at the Boys and Girls Club, and I worked nights at a restaurant.”

Thanks to scholarships from the Diocese of Venice and others, I was able to attend Belmont Abbey. My Catholic faith has helped sustain me. I continue to work while taking a full course load. I will graduate in December 2019. My goal is to attend law school and work in public policy. I would love to run for office someday. I grew up in rough neighborhoods, and I want to help make lives better.”

You have to renew DACA every two years and it costs $500. You must be in school or have graduated and cannot have committed any crimes. And you don’t get the benefits of a regular citizen. But DACA meant hope, and when President Trump announced he was rescinding it, I cried for days. Finally, I was at a great college doing great things, and then this. It’s like running a marathon and you think you can see the finish line and then they move the line so far you can’t even see it anymore. You don’t even know if there is a line. All I wanted was to be a part of this country and to make a better life for my mother, my brother and myself.”

I know by telling my story I am putting myself at risk. But our stories must be told. Hundreds of thousands of people just like me came here as children and love this country and just want to be a part of it. They build companies. They volunteer. They make this country better. I don’t understand if President Trump wants to ‘Make America Great Again’ why he would not want these people who are so hard-working and appreciative to be part of it.”

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