Meet Luis Angel Quiroz, a Business Marketing Major at San Francisco State University and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. DACA is a program to allow Dreamers the ability to live and work in the United States. Luis grew up in San Diego and currently resides in San Francisco.
Like many other DACA recipients, Luis has spent nearly his entire life in the United States. “My parents were very young when they married; my mom was like 15 and my dad was like 22. And of course, there were always rumors of a better life in the US and more job opportunities and better money, so my dad took initiative and came to the US, scoped out a place for us to live, and then went back for us. I was like 6 months old when they decided to bring us to the US. So I’ve lived in the US my whole life, as I was pretty much an infant when I was brought to the US. I still have never been back to Mexico, but they left because of the economic disparity. There was just not enough money to support a family realistically and my parents being so young they just had hopes for something better, for their kids, for themselves.”
Luis had no idea that he was undocumented until he started applying for scholarships.” I was the interpreter of the family so whenever there were people on the phone or forms to fill out, I would always fill them out. When I was doing my own forms for scholarships and things like that, I found this ‘SSN.’ And I was like, ‘What is that?’ When I found out that I didn’t have one, that’s when I knew. I must have been 14, that’s when I knew that I was undocumented. And I felt alone. There weren’t that many people like me, at least that were out about not having a social. I thought it was kind of just me and I wasn’t very vocal about it either so it was kind of just a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of thing. I tried to get by and put all 0’s on some applications and they would get rejected.”
Although Luis didn’t discuss his undocumented status when he was younger, he is definitely open about it now. “I remember that there would be protests and marches and stuff, and my mom would be like, ‘Don’t you dare go, you don’t want to expose yourself, you don’t want to get in trouble.” There was a lot of fear and I feel like that fear is still there but in an empowering way, like we’re all standing up for one another. It’s not just us in this battle alone, there’s allies and there’s people that are on our side.”
Luis started school at San Francisco State University in 2007 and has been working toward his degree since then. He says that his on and off relationship with school has mainly had to do with his and his family’s immigration status. “One big thing that I’d like to highlight is that during my freshman year, when I moved from San Diego to San Francisco, while I was trying to settle in and start a new life away from home, my father was deported. So that put a big strain on my family relationship and my family dynamic where I kind of became responsible for everyone. I had to support my mom in a way, away from home, so I was working and sending her money to help pay rent. She was the only breadwinner, basically, and it was just my little sister and her. And that put a strain on my education–I definitely took time away from school so that I could work.”
Unfortunately, Luis’s mom was also deported in 2015, which caused him to take another break from school. “So I moved back home to help my little sister pack my mom’s apartment, pack her business, close it down, turn in the keys to her apartment. So that was another setback, another reason I took a year off work and school. I was just trying to help my mom and my little sister and attend to the situation in Southern California.”
Luis is still dealing with the effects of his family’s separation. “You hear about it all the time, families being separated, but when it happens to yours it’s just like ‘Wow, how is this possible.’ I feel trapped, like there’s so much I want to do about it but there’s nothing I can do about it. I haven’t seen my father in 10 years, I haven’t seen my mom in 2 years, and that’s just too long. It’s just hard to know that there’s nothing that you can do about it, which is why when events like the I Am An Immigrant Pop Up are there, it’s such a community and it’s such an empowering experience.”
Luis doesn’t remember when he first applied to the DACA program, but he remembers that he was incredibly nervous. “Some of my family was like, ‘Don’t do it, it’s a trick,’ but I really didn’t have a choice. I was devastated when the Dream Act didn’t pass the first time around in the Senate. And that was before 2007–before I even moved away for college, it was up in the air. And there was so much hope and when it got struck down I was like clinging for anything, any kind of hope, and then DACA rolled around and I jumped on it. I was like, I’m definitely doing it. …So I’m able to work legally, you know I pay taxes, I have a driver’s license which I never had before. It’s been so awesome there are so many car share services in San Francisco so I don’t have to own a car, I can just rent one once in awhile and it’s so liberating, it’s such a nice feeling. That’s something you take for granted but when you do it, it’s just awesome. I just really enjoy that luxury, it feels like a luxury to me.”
Luis acknowledges that there are many common misconceptions about DACA, citing that many people think it’s a form of citizenship. “In a nutshell, it’s no law, it’s literally just an executive order that protects me from getting deported as long as I’m showing that I’m not getting into trouble, that I’m in school, or that I’m in the military. We’re given this status that defines us somehow, and it’s instantly negative, you know, but we’re just regular people, I’m kind of taking the brunt for being here but I had no choice in moving to the United States. And this is my home, if you deport me, it’s gonna be a completely foreign landscape. I think it’s important for people to know that home is where you make it, and if people are leaving their country for a reason, and it’s not because we’re scared to cause trouble or anything.”
Unfortunately, DACA does not easily permit travel outside of the country–the only way is through applying for advance parole, which typically takes 4-6 months and doesn’t even guarantee re-entry into the United States. Advance parole couldn’t help Luis when he found out that he brother was tragically murdered in Mexico 4 months ago. “I received a phone call from my mom in Mexico and it was the hardest thing for me to hear, her in her agonizing pain, telling me that my brother was dead. I immediately thought, ‘There’s nothing I can do to go console her, I can’t leave the country.” He knew that if he left the United States to attend his brother’s funeral, he wouldn’t be able to come back.
Someone with papers wouldn’t think twice about attending their brother’s funeral in another country–but Luis wasn’t able to consider it, and he thinks that this is one of the biggest flaws in the system. “How am I going to get to my brother’s funeral tomorrow when I have to wait in line 4-6 months for this paperwork to get processed? I think that’s something that needs to be made known to people trying to fix DACA, is that that’s an insane burden on a family and how that’s affected me emotionally and psychologically is beyond. I wasn’t able to be there for my mom when my brother was murdered and that was a really hard thing for me to do. In my mom’s duress, she asked me ‘what if I died, mijo, would you come to my funeral?’ And that was the hardest thing for me to say ‘yes’ to because although I wanted to, I don’t know, there’s just so much at stake. However, I just talked to a lawyer Thursday and I’m in talks of actually pursuing advanced parole. Granted that things stay the way they are, it may be granted, but in the act of that moment, in that act of desperation when there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s really a messed up thing for someone to have to go through.”
Luis is still finding ways to speak out about his undocumented status and stand up for other Dreamers. He is currently participating in a fellowship with the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement. “I’ve been so honored to be compiled into this cohort of 17 other fellows from the Bay Area that are DACA recipients. It just shows how much we have to offer and being part of this cohort has just opened up the doors and opened up the horizons for me to see what else is out there, what other Dreamers are doing, what other DACA recipients can and are doing, and I think just being a part of this cohort has helped me be a little more open about my status and be a little more comfortable with it. And knowing that there are no limitations, only the limitations that we put on ourselves, we’re not subject to a label or a status that is given to us, we are so much more than that.”
*interview has been edited for clarity and cohesiveness