It was never their intention to be undocumented immigrants.
Yerendi Roblero, 22, was only 6 months old when her parents brought her to the U.S.
She is a DREAMer and a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. DACA has allowed Yerendi to obtain work authorization in the United States, a drivers’ license and access to in-state tuition for college.
Yerendi and her parents traveled from western Guatemala to reunite with family in the United States near the end of that country’s 36-year civil war.
While the war was between U.S.-supported government forces and left-wing rebels, those who suffered the most were the rural poor, who lived in towns and villages in largely Mayan and “ladino” (mixed ethnicity) areas and were assumed to be supportive of the rebels. Many were evangelical Christians.
Yerendi’s maternal grandfather was one of the more than 200,000 victims either dead or missing by the end of the war.
The small family of three settled in southern California with relatives and sought protection through asylum. But they missed a critical deadline related to their ability to obtain legal status, and their one and only chance at legal status was gone.
Despite a series of natural disasters in Guatemala, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) was never granted for Guatemalans, though it was provided to Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans.
TPS allows persons to remain in the U.S. and obtain work authorization on a temporary basis when nationals cannot safely return to their home country. TPS is often granted during times of armed conflict or natural disasters that disrupt the country.
While there was no visa or TPS available to the family, there was plenty of work.
Soon, Yerendi’s mother was expecting the couple’s second child. It was unfathomable to consider returning to a country in ruin and with few economic opportunities now with two preschoolers. The majority of the couple’s supportive family now lived in the U.S., not in Guatemala.
So they stayed.
The Guatemalan Civil War was Central America’s longest and most violent, lasting from 1964 until its formal end on Dec. 29, 1996.
Thirty-six years of violence and fear had a lasting effect on the people, destroying farms and livelihoods, disrupting commercial and trade patterns even in noncombat zones, affecting opportunities for education and leaving the economy in shambles. Many people fled to seek security – physical, emotional and economic security.
Estimates place the number of internally displaced persons in Guatemala during the war at more than 1 million, and approximately 400,000 fled to Mexico, the United States and Canada.
While many Guatemalans ended up in the U.S., they were not well received.
According to data from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, during the 1980s, more than 98 percent of Guatemalans petitioning for asylum in the U.S. were denied while more than 50 percent of petitioners from other countries were approved. In fiscal year 1992, Guatemalans represented 42 percent of all applications for asylum.
It was always Yerendi’s plan to go to college, even though her parents had reservations.
While proud of his daughter, Yerendi’s dad didn’t want to see her move away from home. The school she would attend was a four-year university nearly 300 miles away, and her dad had little or no concept of higher education.
He openly wept as she left, stating how much he would miss her but also how proud he was.
“She will be the first one in our family to go to college,” he said, explaining how his own father hadn’t trusted education, and how he had only gone to school until the third grade.
“In my country, it was the wealthy, the educated, who had all the power,” Yerendi’s dad said. “They were the politicians, the military leaders. My dad saw no purpose in getting an education.”
Education meant becoming more like those who had been responsible for oppression, abuse and terror in their country.
Yerendi is typical of many DACA recipients.
While parents are loving and encouraging and can provide a stable home life, few have the skills or resources to truly help their children achieve success in the U.S.
They are limited by their own lack of English proficiency and education. And some, like Yerendi’s dad, must bridge the gap between a generation that was victimized by “educated people” and the generation that sees education as essential to success.
These are the parents of DREAMers.
Sue Smith and her husband, Greg, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel who work with LUCHA Ministries in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Her writings can also be found on LUCHA’s blog, LUCHA Stories.