KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Juan Herrera, 21, is set to graduate from Western Michigan University this spring with a degree in Computer Information Systems. It’s an opportunity his family sacrificed a great deal for him to have, but as they celebrate, they are also concerned about what might happen to them.
“We come from a very small town and there really wasn’t much opportunity to work, so we had to go somewhere else”, explained Herrera about the area of Mexico his family left behind when he was 4 years old.
His father had spent time working in the U.S., sending money back to the family in Mexico. He eventually decided to bring everyone over the border, hoping to give the children advantages their parents never had.
“They did dish washing or agricultural work, field work, different odd jobs, mostly seasonal,” Herrera described his parents employment as he was growing up.
He didn’t see them much because they worked all day, so his sisters, who were 8 and 15 at the time of their arrival in the U.S., often took care of him.
Herrera knew early on that he was not an American citizen as his parents made their situation clear.
He is currently protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which the Obama administration enacted in June, 2012. It has also helped Herrera go through school, which he eventually realized would be very challenging as an undocumented immigrant.
In high school, he began to look for scholarships, and realized many were not available to him. He said the news of the DACA policy was a sigh of relief.
“It helped me get, well first of all a license, some way of identification and it helped me to go find a job and which was definitely what I needed to do,” said Herrera.
Herrera’s sister is also under the DACA program as she takes classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. They are both concerned about what may happen under President Donald Trump.
Trump has called DACA a “very, very tough subject” for him, saying there are absolutely incredible kids involved and has so far left that policy in place. However, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in February that the matter is not settled for good and that “everyone who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time,” but that the priority will be on people who have committed a crime or threat to public safety.
Still, Herrera feels that the decision to get rid of DACA is inevitable, saying “the way that President Donald trump has been speaking, I feel like that is something that has a very high possibility of happening.”
He doesn’t even remember the place where he was born, so he wouldn’t go back to that area of Mexico if he was forced to leave. Herrera and his sisters are also worried about their parents, who have no protection from deportation but they keep in mind what their parents have always said.
“[They] instilled in us the way of thinking that you don’t let anything or anybody determine your condition or how you live your life,” Herrera said as he explained why he’ll continue to do what he does without the fear of what might happen.
When asked what he would say to those who want to see tougher immigration policies, and who might ask why his parents came here when they knew it was illegal, Herrera responded “my parents made that decision because they wanted a better opportunity for their kids. They wanted us to have those opportunities that they never had, so that’s the main reason. They wanted us to be something they never could.”
He also thinks his parents should be able to stay, based on what they have contributed to society here.
“They’re hard working people, they’ve never done anything wrong. They’re homeowners, they contribute to this economy as best they can. They’ve never taken any help from the government. They want to work for what they have, and that’s what they have done,” Herrera said.
Herrera and his family don’t expect an easy path to citizenship, but would like to see some type of work permit that would allow them to continue to work legally — and perhaps eventually become permanent residents.
For now, he plans to continue working his two jobs through WMU, staying involved with his fraternity and doing as much on campus as he can before he graduates.