Undocumented student deals with hardships, father’s deportation

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As DePaul’s class of 2020 prepared to embark on their college careers, undocumented student and freshman Brenda Gonzalez learned that her father had been deported back to Mexico after spending a year at an Alabama detention center. 

“All I know is that he got deported and was sent to Mexico,” she said, “I’m still trying to process that. It makes me sad, when I went to visit my step siblings in North Carolina and saw them you can tell they’ve been changed by what happened.

“The most hurtful part is hugging them and trying to be there for them but being in Chicago and (this happened as) I had been accepted to college and about to start a new life.”

Before DePaul, Gonzalez remembers a history of trauma, moving between her mother and father’s households in North Carolina and Chicago after immigrating from Guerrero, Mexico when she was 7.

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“It’s like selling your soul to the devil,” she said. “It’s like selling one of your values to suffer in this country. The more I grow up the more I realize the American Dream is not a reality and is just told to attract people to come over and then you realize there’s just a bunch of people that are being exploited.”

She first found stability on DePaul’s campus. The theater arts major found solace as a performer on stage, working in community theater in her neighborhood of Albany Park and now at DePaul.

“Theater was my healing space, my safe space,” Gonzalez said. “I get to make theater about social justice issues like labels, Second Amendment issues and mental health.”

Gonzalez was able to receive enough scholarships to attend The Theatre School, the program she had dreamed of attending.

Gonzalez said her life has been filled with roadblocks.  These roadblocks have continued to affect Gonzalez since learning of her status as a high school student. Her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application — an initiative designed in 2012 to temporarily suspend the deportation of young people who were brought into the United States illegally as children, giving them a Social Security number — has been on hold since 2015,

It being on hold prevents her from getting a job, license and, most importantly, temporary safety from deportation.

“When you’re little you don’t think of the world as a bunch of nations, you just think of the world being this big place for everybody,” she said. “But there are divided places that have stops signs that tell you you can’t enter and tell you that you can’t be here, you can’t dream here, you aren’t welcome here.”

DePaul has a history of supporting undocumented students. DePaul, for instance, doesn’t require social security numbers during the the application process.

In an interview with The DePaulia, DePaul president Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. said that undocumented students will continue to be supported at DePaul, especially with threats of DACA being repealed.

“I would first remind all students that DePaul has always welcomed students regardless of their citizenship status, and that we do not keep lists of undocumented students,” he said. “All of us at some part of our lives need help from others and I encourage students to take advantage of the extensive resources we have to assist with their questions.”

In an effort to aid undocumented DePaul students and stand in solidarity, the university announced in November 2016 that the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic, housed within the College of Law, would coordinate one-on-one consultations for DePaul students and pro bono immigration attorneys. The immigration attorneys are all DePaul College of Law alumni.

“We have a number of dedicated DePaul alums practicing in the field of immigration who have expressed interest in providing consultations for students,” Clinical Instructor and Director of the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic Sioban Albiol said. “We are so grateful to these amazing alumni and hope that DePaul students who may be concerned about the risk of deportation, or about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, will take advantage of this opportunity for a consultation.”

Currently, the program involves about a dozen DePaul alum lawyers.

Albiol said students may request a consultation by contacting the clinic’s departmental assistant and that student information will be kept confidential.

In spite of these resources, DePaul freshman Kelly Garcia fears that President-elect Donald Trump has normalized discrimination against Latinx populations and worries that hate crimes will increase.

“We’re scared of walking to the store and getting harassed,” Garcia said. Though she hasn’t personally been targeted, many of her friends and family have been. “It’s happened to my parents. My dad was getting gas and someone looked at him and told him to go back where he came from.”

Garcia said that though she was angry, she soon after realized that she would have to speak up against future hate speech and rally in defense of her undocumented family and peers. Her father is not undocumented, but the experience showed her what others might have to go through.

Gonzalez’s father, though, was deported. Prior to be being detained, to her knowledge her father worked at a furniture store. She said her family was never given a reason for his detention and later deportation, only that he allegedly committed a crime.

For Gonzalez, her voice and continued determination to overcome roadblocks inspires her to advocate for herself and her undocumented peers.

“If you don’t ask for help, you don’t see who cares,” she said. “I would tell undocumented students to ask questions. What is it that you need? What is in your control? Who can listen to you? I feel fearless because it’s powerful to be visible.”

To schedule a consultation with the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic contact Jenny Freundt at jfreundt@depaul.edu.