Editor’s note: Jorge is not the real name of the DACA recipient featured in this article. The Post Register has given the source anonymity. In order to ensure that anonymity, the names of other sources also have been changed.
As a child growing up in Jefferson County during the 1990s, Jorge spent dozens of late fall mornings picking rocks and dirt clods off conveyor belts carrying potatoes from the spud harvest before they were stored in cellars for the winter.
He was excited to spend two weeks out of school each year, though eventually the vacations turned to labor as his body grew capable of shouldering more responsibility.
As a teenager he drove trucks through sorting areas, where he would also load and unload spuds, before one year deciding agriculture wasn’t for him.
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He worked instead in a grocery store through high school, but dreamed of a life he thought was out of reach.
Jorge was brought to the United States illegally. Not yet 2 years old, he was driven across the Mexican border on the lap of a documented family friend pretending to be his mother.
Though Jorge once resented the risk his parents exposed him to, he’s come to appreciate the decision.
“Even though we were living the way we lived here, we were better off than in Mexico. Poverty, safety, in all aspects, there was no future for us there,” Jorge said. “Some people say it’s my parents’ fault; they should pay the price. My parents were looking for a better future. How many of you would do the same thing to protect your kids?”
What does a Trump presidency mean?
Growing up, Jorge had an eye toward the future and another over his shoulder, fearful of deportation to a country he never knew.
Those fears were alleviated in 2012, when he was granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The program, initiated by President Barack Obama, grants renewable work permits and temporary Social Security cards to immigrants brought into the country illegally as children — so-called Dreamers. A stopgap measure, DACA doesn’t provide a path to citizenship.
But Jorge, then 22, suddenly had a legal avenue to a good-paying job, and the peace of mind to pursue it.
Five years later, his fears of deportation have returned. President Donald Trump’s conflicting rhetoric about those living in the country illegally has caused unrest in the migrant community.
When he announced his candidacy in 2015, Trump drew criticism for saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
In 2016, while on the campaign trail, Trump promised to “immediately terminate” the DACA program. In February, he claimed his administration would “deal with DACA with heart.”
Dreamers, however, have still been detained in recent months.
‘What if my parents were taken away?’
Jorge didn’t find out he was undocumented until middle school. Before that, his childhood wasn’t much different from those of his primarily white peers.
Jefferson County’s rural expanse meant friends lived too far away to visit on foot, so childhood playtime was often built into the schedules of adults.
Thanksgiving each year was accompanied by a turkey and all the trimmings.
In eastern Idaho, Jorge’s exposure to Mexican culture was limited mostly to taco Tuesdays and Cinco de Mayo, a fact he didn’t consider until experiencing mariachi bands and folk dancing years later in Phoenix.
Jorge’s family emigrated from economic hardship in Jalisco, Mexico. Growing up, money was spent on necessities, not festivities.
“You see the huge quinceañeras and stuff on TV, but they grew up in a rural area like this. It was farms. You have to prioritize putting food on the table,” Jorge said.
He didn’t think much about his heritage until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to town when Jorge was a seventh-grader. The school administration pulled Jorge and several crying Latino classmates out of an assembly and let them call home.
“At the time I didn’t understand how ICE worked. Something like that in a town like this? What if my parents were taken away? What if I was taken away? That was when I wondered how this all works. I started asking my parents questions,”Jorge said.
‘He was devastated’
Jorge’s father had worked agriculture jobs in Idaho through the years. His family lived in the Gem State once previously before settling again in the ’90s after Jorge was born. They chose Jefferson County because one of Jorge’s uncles had already put down roots in the agriculture community.
His uncle’s family was given legal status by President Ronald Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, along with about 3 million other undocumented immigrants.
Though one of Jorge’s three older brothers was born in the U.S., the others were not, and his family was in Mexico when Reagan’s amnesty was enacted. When they returned to Idaho they remained undocumented, with neither the time nor the money to become legal residents.
The youngest in his family, Jorge has always been conscientious, always a good boy. He followed rules growing up and made sure others did, too, reminding family members to buckle their seat belts after getting in the car.
But with the sudden knowledge of his family’s immigration status in the seventh grade, Jorge became depressed. He was put on medication.
Jorge’s sister-in-law, Alicia (not her real name) has known Jorge since he was 5. She remembers an immediate change in demeanor after he learned his status.
“He was devastated. He understood it but he didn’t know how to cope with it. He had so many ideas for the future, but there was this huge roadblock. And it’s not something you can just change tomorrow,” she said.
‘They’re at a standstill’
Jorge began making up excuses to avoid out-of-state field trips too risky to attend. When classmates got their driver’s licenses, he rode the bus to high school.
A former teacher remembers Jorge from a handful of her high school courses, including English and speech. At first a poor student, he improved.
“He began pursuing his interests and creativity. That’s kind of what we wish for for all our students regardless of immigration status — their potential,” she said.
Jorge’s life after high school was uncertain. College was desirable; it provided a way out of the fields. As for many kids, it also was prohibitively expensive.
Using a relative’s address, Jorge got a driver’s license in Washington state, where Social Security numbers aren’t needed. But he still couldn’t apply for state or federal scholarships, nor could he get in-state tuition.
Cosmetology school interested Jorge; he could indulge his creativity styling hair, and it was cheaper than a four-year college. But he’d need a Social Security number to become a state-licensed stylist.
The former teacher remembers Jorge’s lack of post-high school options bringing him down. She’s also taught other undocumented students, including some with DACA.
“He’s trying to do some neat things and the odds are against him; it makes me really angry. It’s nothing he did,” she said. “I don’t know why we make it so hard for these students, especially when some are so talented, creative and bright. We try to do everything we can to push them where they need to go, then what? They’re at a standstill.”
Jorge applied for a family-sponsored immigrant visa through his U.S.-born brother long before high school in 2000, but has heard nothing since.
The U.S. Department of State is currently sorting through applications filed December 1997, according to a visa bulletin released this month. A decade ago, the queue was in May 1994.
“I don’t know when they’ll ever get to me,” Jorge said.
After high school, Jorge attended the College of Southern Idaho for a year, but dropped out after private scholarships and a restaurant job weren’t enough to cover the rest of his tuition and rent.
He returned to Jefferson County and took an office job at a company that didn’t check Social Security numbers. Two years later he decided there wasn’t much farther to go without legal status.
“I decided I couldn’t live that way anymore,” Jorge said. “I wasn’t happy.”
He began planning a return to Mexico, a place he doesn’t remember.
Jorge decided to move to Puerto Vallarta. Being bilingual would make him a valuable employee in the resort town’s tourism-based economy.
But because he had lived unlawfully in the U.S. for longer than a year after turning 18, Jorge, then 22, was subject to a 10-year ban if he left the country and tried to reenter it legally.
He wouldn’t be able to see his family for the foreseeable future.
“It was a hard choice, but I wanted to make a difference in my life. My own parents made that decision. They left Mexico to make a difference for their children. My mother hasn’t seen certain siblings for over 20 years,” Jorge said.
Ultimately, he stayed.
“He’s close to his nieces, nephews and brothers, and the thought of him not being able to come back and visit his family, even on a travel visa, was a reason he never pulled the trigger,” Alicia said. “He was definitely upset about that.”
After 7 or 8 months of planning to leave for Puerto Vallarta, DACA was announced. The Mexico move was shelved, and Jorge called his siblings, crying, to share the news.
‘The best Christmas present ever’
To be eligible for the work permit, applicants have to, among other provisions, come into the U.S. before age 16, live there continuously since 2007, be under 31 and never have been convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors. Documents proving the residency provisions could include rent receipts, car registration, hospital records, employment records or mortgage documents, among other things.
Applicants must also provide proof of identity, possibly through a passport, birth certificate or school ID.
Jorge knew he would meet the requirements. He had no criminal record, and his mom “hoarded” years of school assignments that proved his continuous residence in the U.S.
Then, in December 2012, Jorge came home from work to find a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at his Idaho Falls apartment. It contained his DACA card.
“It was the best Christmas present ever. I held the card in my hands and I cried. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder anymore,” said. “I always felt like I was in a little cage, and it was finally opened and I could explore.”
Jorge has renewed DACA twice, most recently in December.
Shortly after being issued a Social Security card, Jorge got a legitimate driver’s license. It’s the same as any other, except with a two-year expiration date.
“Going to the DMV — it was the most exciting thing for me in the world,” he said.
Jorge also quit the office job he never really liked, and took a pay cut to work a front desk position at a local cosmetology school he had toured years before but didn’t think he could attend without legal status.
The owner thought he was already a hair stylist when he showed up for work.
“He had all the flair and he was super confident, super positive. He’s somebody that always makes everything fun,” she said.
Four years later, Jorge is in charge of the school’s graphic design and social media.
“He always goes above and beyond,” the owner said. “I’ve had my cosmetology license for 30 years; I’ve worked in schools for 20, and he’s one of the best employees I’ve had in that time.”
In June, Jorge enrolled in the school’s cosmetology program to become a hair stylist.
Jorge attends classes and works on student clients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. At 5 p.m. he becomes an employee, and walks to the other side of the building to work on graphics and social media feeds for about five hours. On Monday he works another 12 hours. Saturdays, he works on clients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If he didn’t have DACA, the owner would still employ him.
“I probably would’ve been worried that he was going to be deported, but his work ethic is still worth it to me with or without DACA. But it was good for him because he’s a very honest person. He needed to feel like it was legal, like it was the right thing,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who live in fear because of it, that it might be taken away. He’s the exact opposite. He’s grateful for every day he has it. It gives him drive.”
‘An opportunity to make something of yourself’
Obama initiated DACA with a policy memorandum, which means Trump could repeal it.
More than 3,300 Gem State immigrants were granted DACA from 2012 to 2016, according to USCIS data.
A study by think tank Center for American Progress found that Idaho would face an annual GDP loss of more than $155 million if DACA recipients were deported, while the national GDP would fall $434 billion per year.
It remains to be seen what will happen to Obama’s DACA memo.
“I’m holding onto hope that President Trump is trying to get his reins on fixing the problem, and getting criminals out of the states, which I agree with. But not destroying families. We didn’t ask for this. I hope he realizes those of us who want to be here are contributors,” Jorge said.
In the meantime, he splits hours between the cosmetology school and a house he shares with one of his brothers.
Most days, Jorge drives home around 10 p.m. He winds down in his bedroom, in front of a sitcom or a drama.
The room is sparse: “a place to sleep.”
A bed sits on one side of a nightstand, a pile of books from school on the other. There’s a weight set on the ground near a dresser with some knickknacks on top.
Jorge’s phone isn’t far from his hand while he lays on the bed watching TV.
The phone’s case doubles as a wallet. There’s a compartment in the back for his debit card, credit card and school ID.
There’s also a driver’s license set to expire in December next year. He wouldn’t mind visiting the DMV to renew it.
Jorge keeps the Puerto Vallarta plan in the back of his mind in case DACA is terminated without a replacement, but he prays it doesn’t come to that.
“To me this country means hope — an opportunity to make something of yourself. Someone who can go out and show the world why being an American is so great,” he said. “It was always in my head that DACA could be revoked, but if they were willing to do this for me, of course I’m not going to continue living in the shadows. I handed over every bit of info about myself though, and one day it could come back to hurt me or my family.”