Border Dreamers: Immigrant Youth in the Southern Border

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a United States immigration policy that transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth, allowing them to stay in the only country many of them ever known as home. DACA’s impact was especially felt in the southern border region — 1 in 5 DACA recipients live in the borderlands, according to the latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Immigrant youth in the southern border region navigate the stress and uncertainty surrounding their immigration status and that of their family members, as well as the militarization of their region.

Immigrant youth are instrumental to our communities, they’re our neighbors, teachers, nurses and doctors. In fact, approximately 27,000 DACA recipients work as healthcare workers on the frontlines of combating COVID-19.

For Border Dreamers, the binational character of the region is just out of reach.

The ability to travel and visit their birth countries is something that can prevent Border Dreamers from returning to the U.S. Even traveling the short distance across the militarized border without proper permissions could lead to them being permanently deported to countries many of them have never known.

To Mexico and Back: A DACA recipient’s experience with Advance Parole

In 2017, Border Dreamer Itzel Maganda embarked on an emotional journey to her home country of Mexico on advanced parole. Watch as she explores a country she barely knows, and meets with deported veterans and deported moms in the border city of Tijuana, before returning to her home in San Diego.

Meet Border Dreamers

Immigrant youth in the southern border region are an integral part of their communities. Meet four Border dreamers from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, learn about the adversities they’ve overcome and their plans for the future.

Immigrant Youth in the Borderlands: a Life Under Fire

Because Border Dreamers live within the 100-mile border enforcement zone, they and their families are subject to interior checkpoints. Border Patrol agents assert the right to stop, interrogate and search children on their way to school, parents on their way to work, and families going to doctor’s appointments or the grocery store — all done without a warrant or reasonable suspicion. Immigrant youth who live within the southern border region face the constant threat of deportation — they can be deported in a day, and in many border communities, local law enforcement collaborates with border agents, further pushing immigrant youth and their families into silence and fear. Even in areas that legally prohibit law enforcement to collaborate with federal immigration officials, border agents still outnumber law enforcement, creating an unsafe environment for all.

“We cannot accept any legislation that criminalizes our immigrant families, people of color, and continue to damage our planet.”- Jessica Garcia Rodriguez

Jessica Garcia Rodriguez

Jessica Garcia Rodriguez is a Border Dreamer from Tucson, AZ. Jessica’s status as a DACA recipient has allowed her to have a driver license, pay in-state tuition and attend college. DACA has allowed Jessica to continue to expand her academic, professional and personal goals.

Of her experience as an immigrant youth during the uncertainty of whether or not DACA would continue, Jessica says:

“Trump’s deportation machine is nothing new for our families. I have seen families torn apart because of their immigration status. I have seen co-workers, my friends’ parents, and community members taken to detention centers by Border Patrol, leaving families without their main providers, and kids left without their parents. I want to see the liberation of every person in this country, and around the world. We have to continue to push for more inclusive legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants.”

“The real dream for me is to allow all families to remain together, without a wall between them.” - Irving Hernandez

Irving Hernandez

Irving Hernandez is a Border Dreamer who lives in San Diego, CA. Irving came to the United States when he was just six years old. Irving graduated from San Diego State University in May of 2017, with a degree in aerospace engineering.

DACA Is a Key to Education

A key benefit of DACA is the ability for immigrant youth to pursue education opportunities they may not have been able to otherwise. According to a survey by Center for American Progress, over 60 percent of DACA recipients were able to pursue educational opportunities because of their DACA status that they previously could not.

DACA Creates Financial Stability for Border Dreamers — and the Region

Every family should have the opportunity to thrive. DACA provides a path towards financial stability that Border Dreamers and their families need. Because of their ability to work through DACA, over 80 percent DACA recipients achieved financial independence, and over 60 percent were able to get jobs with better pay.

“To me, the real dream is to be treated equally here in the United States of America. This country has been my home since I was a baby. I've learned English through school, I've said the Pledge of Allegiance countless times, and I know it by heart. I know the history of the U.S. very well. American culture is part of my roots. I work hard to contribute to my community every day. America is my home and New Mexico is forever in my heart. The real dream is to be able to visit our families back in Mexico, but be able to come back home, to New Mexico. The real dream is to be able to go to the store without being discriminated against or being scared of being deported. We need protection but we can’t deport our parents in order to get it. Families need to stay together.”- Viviana Arciniega

Viviana Arciniega

Viviana Arciniega is a Border Dreamer in Las Cruces, NM. Viviana and her sister saved up to pay their DACA registration fees by working summers at an onion shed. DACA has given Viviana the opportunity to help her family through difficult financial times,to go to school and to pursue a career in nursing.

Viviana tells the story of how her father was injured and left unable to work before the existence of DACA, leaving her family without a safety net due to their undocumented status:

“Prior to DACA, my dad was the only financial provider for my family. Because we were undocumented, my mom, my sister and I didn’t work. My dad was involved in a car accident where he broke both of his legs. He couldn’t walk for almost a year, and had to do a second year of physical therapy. He was told that he wouldn’t be able to work for long hours as he had before the accident. During that time, we struggled to pay rent, electricity, gas and sometimes we didn't have food to feed the family.

I feel very happy and privileged that DACA has given my sister and I the opportunity to work and help our family, to pay for our school and to better ourselves by creating a better future for our family not only economically but through education.”

Allyson Duarte

Allyson Duarte is a Border Dreamer from McAllen, TX. Prior to DACA, access to educational opportunities outside of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas were practically unattainable due to a checkpoint located in Falfurrias, TX, that effectively barred undocumented people from traveling outside of the region. Because of DACA, Allyson was able to apply for a work permit and begin working. Finding employment enabled Allyson to continue her education, and earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley.

Allyson talks about the militarization of her community, and how immigrant families are forced to live in fear:

“Personally, coming from someone living in the southern border in Texas, I can tell you that border reinforcement (i.e. bringing more immigration agents) alone will be enough to create an even more hostile environment in the border. The problem is that immigration agents can potentially turn, as they have historically, to targeting people of color in an attempt to enforce the tougher immigration policies being pushed by the current administration. This is concerning because it leads to racial profiling.

“Dreamers are human beings who came to this country in search of better living conditions and opportunities to provide for their families. Immigrants did not come to the U.S. to take anything away from anyone, they arrived here aware that they would have to work and that nothing would be handed down to them.”- Allyson Duarte

Border Militarization Hurts Immigrant Youth

Since the inception of Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, the militarization of the southern border region has led to the destruction of wildlife, depletion of natural resources and the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of people. Billions are invested in treating our border like a warzone, and immigrant youth and their families are caught in the middle. Learn more about the human toll of a militarized border here.

Unaccountable border agents use their extraordinary powers to stop children and adults without probable cause, and search them without warrants. Border agents can set up checkpoints wherever they’d like, cutting off immigrant youth and their families from access to roads.

The wasteful and deadly border wall has seen the destruction of national monuments and sacred sites, has damaged migration routes for wildlife and stomped on the rights of private landowners.

Learn more about the human toll of a militarized border here.

A New Vision for Borderlands’ Immigrant Youth

Immigrant youth have lived in uncertainty since 2017, when President Trump attempted to rescind DACA. In June of 2020, the Supreme Court of The United States ruled that Trump’s attempt to rescind DACA was unlawful, and that DACA must be reinstated. However, the battle is far from over — Trump has already said he will try to rescind DACA again. In the November 2020 election, immigrant and border communities urge voters to look toward a New Border Vision, and back policies and politicians that protect immigrant communities, expand public safety and uphold the dignity and human rights of all.


Privacy Policy / Terms & Conditions

Southern Border Communities Coalition is a program of Alliance San Diego.


Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.

Created with NationBuilder