What I Wish People Knew About Being a DACA Recipient

A certified medical assistant openly shares the hurtful stereotypes she faces and her struggles with living in fear and caring for her family.

Mariana Galati, 27, lives in Mt. Laurel, N.J., with her husband. She and her mother emigrated from Mexico to Camden, N.J., before Mariana turned five. She is a “Dreamer,” the nickname for the more than 700,000 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients living in the U.S.

In 2012, President Obama signed an executive order creating DACA so that young people brought to the U.S. as children would have protection from deportation. These teens and young adults identify as Americans, speak English fluently and have very little memory of living in another country. Some 27,000 DACA recipients–including Mariana–work in healthcare in the U.S., as doctors, nurses, techs and aides. Mariana works for Jefferson Medical Group in New Jersey. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, she has worked every weekend at the Cherry Hill COVID-19 Testing Site where 130-180 people have come through for testing.

Mariana and a colleague at the a COVID-19 testing site in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Mariana and a colleague at the Cherry Hill COVID-19 Testing Site.

I Wish People Knew Stereotypes about Mexican People are Hurtful

People often stereotype Mexicans as farmworkers, but my family was from Mexico City, not a rural area. I don’t like the term “illegal” or even worse–“illegal alien.” It has a negative connotation and sounds like you are a criminal. I’d rather be called “undocumented.” My mother was sold on the dream of coming to America for a better life, but you come here with nothing and knowing no one. It is a hard life. From a very young age, I have been translating for my mom because her English is very limited. I attended Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden–a magnet school for students interested in healthcare careers. I now work as a medical assistant for Jefferson Medical Group and I am a third-year nursing student at Rutgers University. I value my job. I arrive at the testing site at 7 a.m., even though we don’t start testing until 9 a.m., and I stay late to make sure everything is in order before I leave. If I see something that needs to be fixed, I take charge.

Mariana with her mother

Mariana with her mother.

I Wish People Knew What It is Like Growing Up as a ‘Dreamer’

I was always hiding my DACA identity from my friends. It was very depressing for me when they were applying to college. I didn’t enjoy my senior year of high school. I thought to myself: I am going to have a mediocre job, working “under the table” because as a DACA recipient, I am not eligible for a Social Security card. A Social Security card here means you exist in this country. That nine-digit number makes you a person instead of someone who lives in the shadows.

I Wish People Knew How Fear Instilled by Our Parents Limited Our Social Life

Parents like my mother are afraid for their kids so they scare you by instructing you not to tell anyone your undocumented status. It limits your friendships. Prior to this year, none of my friends or colleagues knew I was undocumented. Recently, I had an epiphany: This is more than just a story about me. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told my story on the Senate floor in April. I was the 122nd DACA recipient whose story he told. It’s not something I usually share about myself, but I felt really proud to get my story out there.

I Wish People Knew How Difficult Dating is When You are Undocumented

It is hard to get close to someone when you cannot be open about your legal status. After a few months, it would be hard to hide my status so I would end the relationship. When I was dating my husband, he found out by accident when he saw my driver’s license. It doesn’t look like a regular N.J. driver license. He grew up in an affluent family. His ancestors have been here since before the Civil War. Now that he understands the plight of Dreamers, he changed his political party for the one that supports a pathway to citizenship for people like me.

Mariana with her husband

Mariana with her husband.

I Wish People Knew DACA Recipients are Cut Off from Extended Family

One of the saddest parts of being a DACA recipient is that I never got to bond with extended family in Mexico. My only family was my mother, and later my brother when he was born. My relatives from Mexico did come to the U.S. for my wedding five years ago, but the visa process is very expensive, so they cannot come often.

I Wish People Knew ‘Dreamers’ Cannot Travel to Another Country

Dreamers like me cannot leave the U.S., so I am unable to take a trip to another country or even visit my family in Mexico. If I leave the States, I will not be allowed back in.

I Wish People Knew ‘Dreamers’ Often Have to Assume a Parental Role for Younger Siblings

My 18-year-old brother is autistic. Because of my English proficiency, I am the one who goes to IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings for my brother and registers him for special education programs. Even though I am not his parent, I must be the responsible adult navigating the educational process for him because my mom is not fluent in English.

I Wish People Knew the Emotional Toll of Waiting for Homeland Security to Approve a Visit with a Loved One in Mexico

Five years ago, my grandmother had a stroke and I worked with my immigration lawyer to apply to visit her for “humanitarian reasons.” Attending a funeral or visiting a sick elderly relative falls under this category. Homeland Security has twice denied my request. My case is still pending with the agency. It would require that I go to the U.S. Embassy in Juarez (one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico), undergo a physical and bloodwork, and then be interviewed with and without my husband. It is very risky because I may be denied re-entry into the U.S. Emotionally and mentally, the waiting and the stress of this really gets to me. I just want to see my grandmother.

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