STILL KICKIN HERO: APRIL 2017
EVERY MONTH, FUNDS FROM OUR SALES GO TO SUPPORT A NEW PERSON WHO DEFINES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE STILL KICKIN.
Veronica* has been described by a coworker as “the closest thing to an angel I have ever met.” And lest you think that coworker is exaggerating, behold the following evidence:
She got her first job when she was still in high school so she could help her parents pay the bills after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
She takes side gigs on top of her full-time job to ensure her husband -- who has been wheelchair-bound since an accident in his teens left him paralyzed from the waist down -- has access to the best possible ongoing medical care.
She helps people who didn’t finish high school earn their GEDs.
And because that’s apparently not enough to give this woman good karma for the rest of eternity, Veronica also volunteers as often as she can, working with homeless teens and teaching English as a second language.
(The woman donates plasma, for crying out loud. Angel status: approved.)
And each day, Veronica wonders if she’ll be forced to leave her home. Because she’s one of approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Veronica was only 2 years old when her mother brought her over the border to receive life-saving surgery not available to her in her home country of Mexico. Despite growing up in poverty (her parents worked several jobs to keep a roof over their heads), Veronica went to public school (where she was named prom queen), attended church (where she worked with the archdiocese) and did other things typical American kids do.
But certain aspects of her life weren’t typical at all, such as when her brother was deported when Veronica was 11 years old.
“I grew up knowing that at any time either me, my parents or my brother could be deported,” Veronica says. “My parents worked really hard to make me feel like everything was going to be fine, but I knew it might not be.”
Veronica began cleaning homes and offices when she was 17 years old to help her parents pay for her mother’s cancer treatments. She was often taken advantage of by her clients, who knew the teenager was undocumented.
“There were times when they’d try to pay me less. Or they wouldn’t pay me at all,” she says. “Because I was so young, I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Veronica’s life changed “incredibly and completely” in 2012 when then-President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. Under the program, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors could apply for a renewable two-year period of eligibility for a work permit and deportation deferment.
(In simpler terms: DACA = Veronica could work legally + no fear of deportation. Yay!)
“At first, it felt too good to be true. I was very skeptical. I applied and went through the whole process, but it never really hit home until I got the final document. We threw a small party to celebrate, because it was that life-changing. I could go online and apply for real jobs! I had a real Social Security number! It felt like such a huge privilege.”
For the past few years, Veronica has been living the American dream with a work ethic that puts the rest of ours to shame. And how awesome would it be if this was where the story ended? The 24-year-old has earned a “happily ever after.”
Unfortunately, Veronica’s DACA renewal was denied two weeks into the current presidency. She was stunned when she got the news.
“My criminal record hasn’t changed,” she says. “I haven’t done anything wrong -- no DWIs, not even a speeding ticket. Why would they revoke it? What’s the reason? I thought, ‘This has to be an error. This has to be wrong.’”
Veronica is in the process of appealing the ruling with help from an immigration lawyer, but such appeals take both time and money. If her appeal is denied, she will begin the process of applying for a green card, but this historically has been very difficult for undocumented immigrants to obtain.
Best-case scenario? Her DACA permit is restored in 120 days. Woohoo! However, this would still leave Veronica without an income for three months, as she’s unable to legally work during the appeal process. And she has loved ones who depend on her. Right up until the day her current DACA permit expired, Veronica took on extra odd jobs to build up her savings and prepare for unemployment (and possible deportation). She worked through the night, cleaning offices and homes before heading over to her day job. She sold her computer. She took babysitting gigs.
“I can’t show my parents that I’m breaking,” Veronica says. “I can’t show my husband that I’m breaking. To them, I’m that strong rock they can come to.”
Veronica has the full support of her employer and colleagues, who all eagerly await the day she can return to the office.
“They’re the ones helping me through this. Especially right now, “ Veronica says. “They’re not just coworkers -- they’re more like family. I’m blessed to have them.”
Unless you’ve been living under the world’s largest rock (which you probably haven’t, or you wouldn’t be reading this right now), you’ve witnessed -- and probably participated in -- quite a bit of discussion around the subject of undocumented immigrants and immigration policy in recent weeks. The main problem with these discussions, Veronica believes, is that the faces associated with undocumented immigrants are the wrong ones.
“People look at the undocumented immigrants who are criminals, and they don’t see the rest,” she says. “I don’t have a criminal background.”
(It’s worth noting here that research has shown folks born in the U.S. are more likely to commit crimes than immigrants, but we digress.)
It’s only toward the end of our conversation that Veronica’s anger and frustration begin to show through her positive demeanor. She tells us how she was sexually abused as a child but wasn’t able to report the crime to authorities or get any kind of justice for fear of being deported. She says there are many other victims of such abuse and oppression within the immigrant community in the Twin Cities.
To say that this is SO NOT OKAY is obviously an understatement.
Lately, Veronica has been spending time at her church with folks facing similar uncertain circumstances. She offers whatever emotional support she can, since many of these immigrants don’t have friends or family to lean on -- because in some cases, their loved ones have already been deported, some during the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids under the current administration.
“I don’t think people realize how much this all affects us until they hear us out. Until they hear our stories,” Veronica says. “Until they see that we are human.”
Your support this month will help Veronica cover her mother’s and husband’s treatment expenses and other crucial financials as she waits out the DACA appeal process. More importantly, it will help Veronica stay where she belongs.
“This is my home. This is the only home I know.”
*Name has been changed for identity protection purposes. Because even the biggest of heroes need protection, too.