American DREAMer hoping to stay put

By Adriana Cabezas |

At the tender age of 8, Jonathan Orellana left home and traveled alone on a perilous 2,000-mile journey from El Salvador to the U.S.-Mexico border.

He risked it all to start a new life and live out his version of the American dream.


Orellana (left) at the age of 7, around a year before embarking on the journey.

Now, 22, he worries his dream will be shattered because of a Trump administration decision aimed at ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy that’s giving illegal immigrant children a chance.

“The reason people come here is because of financial needs,” he said. “It’s not like they wanted to be here, they wanted a better life than what they had back in their birth countries.”

DACA was established by the Obama Administration in 2012. It allows certain illegal immigrants to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action–an indefinite delay from deportation–and to be eligible for a work permit, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

After living in the United States illegally for 10 years, Orellana finally requested DACA to be able to start working legally during high school.

“DACA gives people, especially kids, the opportunity to be in school and not drop out. It gives immigrants the help to be safe and be financially independent. I have honestly never seen any negative results from DACA,” Orellana said.

Although DACA gives people legal residency for two years, it’s still a little bit of a false hope, said his wife, Lesley Pequeño de Orellana.

“He had such huge dreams career-wise,” she said. “He wanted to be in the Marines, he also wanted to be an aerospace engineer and he wanted to be all these things, but to do that you had to get into certain schools and some of those schools won’t even accept DACA, believe it or not.”


Orellana accompanied by his wife, Pequeño, in 2017.

Orellana went to college for only a year before dropping out because he wasn’t able to afford tuition. DREAMers have to pay out-of-country tuition, even if they want to attend college inside they state they reside in, he said.

Although DACA recipients have experienced some educational and economic gains, they still tend to work in low-paying jobs and report difficulty paying bills and accessing health insurance, according to a UCLA study.

Orellana works in St. Augustine, Fla. as a tree cutter eight to 12 hours a day, every day of the week–including Sundays–to be able to pay everyday expenses.

Although the DREAMers’ working circumstances aren’t ideal in the United States, Orellana says it’s better than being back in his home country.

“The way my country is right now, I don’t want to go back. I’m better here,” he said. “I consider myself an American first, a Salvadorian after. I basically grew up here. I’ve lived the majority of my life here; it’s been 14 years.”

Donald Trump, while running for the presidency, stated that he intended to repeal DACA on ‘day one’ of his presidency, according to the L.A. Times.

Considering himself an American, Orellana said he would feel devastated if DACA got repealed. It means he would get deported.

“I think DACA is so important to everyone; to parents as well as children. They stayed here for a reason and they brought their kids over for a reason. And that is reason is to help them become better,” Pequeño said. “If you want to take all that away it’s just like biting the hand that feeds you.”

As of today, the USCIS is still accepting requests to renew DACA status but is not accepting requests from people who have never before been granted deferred action under DACA.

Repealing DACA means thousands of people could lose their jobs and eventually get deported when their two-year period expires, according to a study conducted by the Center for American Process. The study shows that DACA has not only improved the lives of young undocumented immigrants and their families but has also positively affected the economy of the United States.

“It serves a greater purpose, and to take it off because you don’t like the people that it’s helping, it’s really selfish,” Pequeño said. “It’s not going to benefit anyone. If anything, you’re just going to send a lot of good potential back to their countries.”

“Research has shown that DACA beneficiaries will contribute $460.3 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next decade—economic growth that would be lost were DACA to be eliminated,” according to the Center for American Process study. “The inclusion of these people has contributed to more prosperous local, state and national economies; to safer and stronger communities through increased access to cars and home ownership; and to a more prepared and educated workforce for the future.”

“What is America,” Pequeño said, “if it’s not the land of the free?”

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