Maggie Loredo was flying to North Carolina from Mexico to take part in a panel discussion at the Sanford School of Public Policy Thursday about the experiences of undocumented youth in America. But she didn’t make it. She was held up by U.S. Customs long enough that she missed her connecting flight in Houston.
That real-time example of the hurdles faced by undocumented youth set the stage for the event, “Dreamers and Deportation,” convened by the Hart Leadership Program and moderated by HLP Director Gunther Peck.
The Dream Act, if it had been passed, would have given undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children a path to citizenship.
“The Dreamers have taken the story of the act and turned it into an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be an American,” Peck said.
Loredo, the missing panelist, came to the U.S. at age 2 and returned to Mexico at 18. She founded Otros Dreams en Accion (ODA), an organization that helps those deported to Mexico adjust to their new home.
The panelists sharing their stories were Adriana Figueroa, who also works at ODA, and Axel Herrera, a Duke student, Dreamer, and founder of the Duke chapter of Define American, which works to humanize the conversation about immigration.
Adriana Figueroa's story
Figueroa came to the U.S. when she was 5. When she was returning to Mexico in 2005 at age 18, the immigration officer asked why she was going back. She told him that she couldn’t go to college here, and he didn’t understand why not.
She did go to college in Mexico and earned a B.A. in psychology. She now works at ODA with other returnees, who are caught between two cultures. ODA provides a space where they can share, in celebrating Thanksgiving, for example, or finding lawyers to help people get the documents they need to thrive in Mexico.
“I represent people who are in exile,” she said.
Figueroa saw her parents and siblings in the U.S. for the first time in 12 years this past February. “Being back was a healing process, but the wounds don’t heal completely,” she said.
Axel Herrera's Story
Herrera shared his story of coming to the U.S .when he was 7 years old, with his mother, his sister, and an older cousin, whose father was living in New York City. He recalled being taking off the bus in Brownville, Texas, being fingerprinted and given an “alien number” to identify him.
Herrera’s family was always open about their undocumented status. So in 2014, he applied for the DACA program. When he supplied his alien number, he was told, “You have an order of removal,” in his file.
Herrera was a student at Riverside High School in Durham, and worked with other immigrant kids through the ESL programs. In 2016, when Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke in the Fleishman Commons, Herra was among those protesting the detention of Wildin Acosta, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras and also a Riverside High School student when he was arrested.
“Then I was protected, I had deferred action,” he said. Johnson’s appearance gave him to opportunity to do something, to hold the government accountable. “Not that much separated me and Wildin. He had much more claim to asylum than I had.”
During the Q&A period, in response to a question about how to be a good ally, both Herrera and Figueroa acknowledged that it is both difficult and important.
“Immigration is so vast; it involves so much work,” said Herrera. “That’s a battle you can take on from many different fronts, (and) you just have to engage somehow.”
“It’s not just a U.S. problem, and not just a Mexican problem. It is a human problem,” said Figueroa.