Every morning, Tania Moreno drives from south Omaha to Elkhorn to attend her graphic design class at Metropolitan Community College. Afterward, she drives about 13 miles to her job at First Data Resources. On some days, Moreno has to drive from work back to MCC for an evening class before finally journeying home.
And because Moreno came to the United States illegally, each trip is made with the utmost caution. For every moment she speeds or makes an illegal turn can lead to the biggest mistake of her life.
“It’s so frustrating that I have to be scared every day – I see a cop, and I’m scared,” Moreno said, fighting tears. “I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’m scared.”
Moreno spoke during a roundtable discussion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy Wednesday at the Nebraska State Education Association building.
DACA, which President Barack Obama enacted in June 2012, grants temporary residence status to young immigrants for a renewable two-year period. These immigrants must be in school, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED. To apply for DACA, an individual must be at least 15 years old and have entered the country before the age of 16. But immigrants who are older than 30 years old as of June 15, 2012, and have not continuously resided in the U.S. for five years prior to the same date aren’t eligible.
Moreno was one of about seven students and recent graduates who shared their stories with Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, who organized the meeting, as well as Sens. Danielle Conrad, Ken Haar, Ken Shilz and organizations such as the Nebraska Latino American Commission, Heartland Workers Center and Nebraska Appleseed.
The legislators met to gain an understanding of how Nebraska’s restriction on driver’s licenses for “dreamers” – young undocumented immigrants who have been allowed to temporarily live and work in the United States – has impacted their daily lives.
Nebraska is the only state that bars DACA beneficiaries from obtaining driver’s licenses.
A federal judge said last week that she will hear a lawsuit challenging the ban.
Although DACA-eligible immigrants can live, study and work in the U.S. without risk of deportation, the reprieve is only temporary. It doesn’t alter an individual’s immigration status or provide a path to citizenship.
“DACA… it has been a blessing, yet it’s a curse,” said Jani Martinez, a Wells Fargo personal banker who graduated from UNL with a bachelor’s degree in May. “Working at a bank, there’s different work meeting schedules. Obviously the bus isn’t going to be waiting outside my house asking me what time I need to go to work.”
Martinez migrated from Mexico when she was 4 years old and has lived in Lincoln for 18 years. While attending UNL, she was an honors student who studied political science and French. She was also an active member of the Cornhusker Marching Band, student government and Nebraska Latino American Commission. Currently, she’s on track to apply for law school in hopes of one day becoming an attorney.
Without the ability to drive, Martinez has been forced to turn down internships with law firms and organizations that aren’t located in the city.
Martinez isn’t the only one in her family struggling with the complexities of DACA. She said her sister is going through the same process, her older brother is applying for DACA status and her younger brother is fortunate enough to avoid it altogether. But the real problem lies with her father, who she said has a final hearing next month before he’s deported.
Although family separation looms ahead, Martinez remains hopeful that legislators will reform the state’s immigration policies in the spring.
It’s the same ordeal for all who have applied for DACA status and were approved, such as Joseline Reyna, who has just begun an education as a freshman exploratory major at UNL.
“It was hard for us to come here,” she said.
Reyna migrated from Mexico to the U.S. with her family in 2005. Living in Grand Island, she said it was difficult for her to learn English and because of that she often regretted coming to this country.
“I felt like I didn’t belong here because I didn’t know English,” she said.
But after she learned the language, she said she realized the opportunities the U.S. could provide her. Now she just wants to live “the American dream.”
“I want to be a role model for my younger siblings that are going through the same situation,” she said. “I want to make my parents proud. Obstacles are just temporary, but success is something that lasts forever.”