Photo credit: Newsy/Ben Schamisso
by Ben Schamisso
Maria Torres describes herself as "the poster child for immigration reform," but don't call her a "Dreamer." She says the word unfairly excludes more than 10 million other undocumented immigrants, including her parents and her brother.
"Who do you see when you say 'Dreamer'? And I want you to think even harder. Who are you leaving out? And do those people deserve to be left out?" asked Torres. "I think that people who use the 'Dreamer narrative' still to this day believe that there is people who deserve justice and people who don't."
She added: "It continues to perpetuate this idea that there's people who just magically are super-achievers and who deserve more than other people who are not."
Torres is one of nearly 800,000 DACA recipients. She was brought from Mexico to the U.S. by her parents 15 years ago. Being undocumented, she managed to attend a local college by winning a scholarship. When President Barack Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, she was just about to graduate. A few months later, she applied for and received her DACA work permit.
"It wasn't until I got my Social Security number where it finally hit me. And when I received it and I opened the envelope and saw it, I was so angry," Torres said. "So angry I just threw it to the table. And I told my mom, 'Because of this f---ing thing, we've been struggling so much.' And I left the room."
"My father is one of the most hardworking men you'll ever meet. And my mom is very hardworking and very compassionate. She's always trying to help and support other people. And so how is it that it was becoming easier for me to get this job with health insurance? And I could go to the doctor and I could go to the gynecologist without any problem. Every little thing in your life is tied to your immigration status, in one way or another. It's always there. And I was seeing firsthand the contradictions."
Those contradictions and differences between "Dreamers" and non-"Dreamers" became even less bearable to Maria when her younger brother learned he wouldn't qualify for DACA because of his police record.
"What hope does he have? When he's trying to look for a job, but he's undocumented," asked Torres. "He doesn't have money to buy a car to go look for a job. When he knows that he's not going to ever be able to get DACA. Ever. Because he doesn't exist anymore. And I know it is personal choice, and I know that it's family responsibility, but I also know that it's a system that doesn't work with us."
Torres has been a high-profile organizer for more than 10 years. With a few other young undocumented activists, she launched the #ProtectionForAll movement a few months ago to bring the voice of the most marginalized immigrants to the mainstream.
"Ultimately, I made a very conscious decision to position myself as far to the left as I can and with a radical idea of protecting for all and really say yes to fighting for the most vulnerable," Torres said. "I understand that it may not be politically feasible, and I don't particularly care because I'm not running for office."
She added: "At one point, people didn't think that the Dream Act or DACA was possible. DACA happened because there was radical undocumented folks, many of them who are queer, who are black, who are in the LGBT community, who said, 'No, we are going to demand this, and we are going to call President Obama deporter in chief.' And we got DACA, so … we are challenging what is being said, and even if people don't agree, it is always going to be in the back of their minds."
Since President Donald Trump formally rescinded DACA earlier this year, the future of DACA recipients is in limbo. Torres' DACA status expires in April 2019. But she's not scared or worried by the prospect of losing her job.
"I am planning on doing the best I can to pay off my debt so that if I lose my job, I'm going to continue organizing and survive off of ramen noodles," Torres said.
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