UT students share experiences with undocumented citizenship

Danielle Lopez and Elizabeth Hlavinka

Editor's note: This article is part of a package about diversity on campus. Click here to read the other stories.

During bilingual education sophomore Pamela Morales Castro’s seventh Christmas, her mother mysteriously left for a trip, remaining absent for over a year. It wasn’t until years later that her family revealed to her the real reason for her departure — her mother had been deported.

Morales Castro is one of about 600 undocumented students on the UT campus. Her parents, in an effort to provide their child with a better life, moved to the United States from Mexico City when she was three years old.

Growing up, Morales Castro said her parents sheltered her from the difficulties of being undocumented. During her sophomore year of high school, however, her classmates began getting their driver’s licenses and first jobs. It was then that Morales Castro’s parents sat her down to tell her the meaning of her legal status, and that her establishment in the country was less reliable than some of her friends’. Morales Castro could not get a license because she didn’t have a social security number.

The summer after her sophomore year, on June 15, 2012, the secretary of Homeland Security passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allowed undocumented young adults  —  between the ages of 15 and 31 as of the date the bill was passed — to apply for deferred action, work authorization and a social security card. DACA is not a form of citizenship, and it must be renewed every two years.

“It’s not necessarily what we wanted,” Morales Castro said. “It’s temporary. I’m more comfortable as a student, but just because I have DACA doesn’t mean I can’t be deported. They could still push deportation procedures toward me if they had a reason to. It doesn’t give you protection or perpetual stability.”

Business sophomore Yesenia Mondragon, who is also an undocumented student, said she applied for her first DACA about a month ago. Mondragon said she has always been qualified, but has refrained from applying for economic reasons. The application itself cost $465 and takes several months to
become effective.

“My parents would save up money for it, but then we would have to give up [the money] because they needed it for something,” Mondragon said. “I would just give it to them because I saw they needed it more than I did.”

Although advertising junior Erasto Renteria is an American citizen, his parents are undocumented. Growing up, he said he never felt too affected by his situation until he came to college. His parents, who live in a border town in the Rio Grande Valley, are unable to cross the traffic checkpoints controlled by Border Patrol.

If they try to cross, they risk being taken into custody and sent back to Mexico. They have never seen his apartment, never visited him in Austin and, as graduation approaches, they won’t be able to see him walk across the stage.

“I thought it was something normal until I found out my parents aren’t as privileged,” Renteria said. “It’s hard to see myself graduating without my parents. They’re the main reason I’m here. They pushed me to go to college.”

Renteria said he hopes within the next couple of years some sort of legislation will pass that could grant his parents mobility, but the available methods of gaining citizenship remain restricted. Renteria and Morales Castro said if undocumented citizens qualified as victims of a domestic violence or human trafficking case, for example, they could become a citizen. Or, they could also marry a U.S. citizen. 

“I don’t really like the idea of getting married to someone because I want to become a U.S. citizen,” Morales Castro said. “I’ve always seen myself as an American because I don’t think a piece of paper really establishes what you are.”