29-year-old Camila Hernandez* is a mother of one, and a successful participant in the healthcare bridge program at Erie Neighborhood House. Erie is one of 13 community based organizations Women Employed works with to help women build the basic skills they need to transition into higher education and better careers. Camila’s story, as told to WE, follows.
Though I always knew I wasn’t born in the United States, I didn’t realize I wasn’t a citizen of this country until my senior year of high school. My ROTC group was going on a school trip to Paris. I went home to tell my mom about all the documents I needed to prepare for the trip, and it was then that she let me know I didn’t have any legal documentation. When I found out it was like — what am I going to do with my life?
After high school, I couldn’t go to college, so I just worked as a restaurant server. But then in 2012, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) came into effect and allowed me to get a social security number. I was so excited! I felt so relieved, I felt free. By then my daughter was about 3 years old and I was a stay at home mom, but I decided that when my daughter started preschool I would go back to school, too.
One day my brother-in-law came to me with a flyer from Erie and told me to call them, and I did. I want my daughter to be proud of me. I want her to see that I always tried to do right. I want her to see that you can do it even if you’re Hispanic. I want my daughter and nieces and nephews to see and understand — that dream is not that far from you. You can actually do it, and become somebody.
I did a four-month bridge program that had basic reading and math with information about healthcare. I had been out of school for ten years, but the bridge program prepared me for the enrollment placement test I will be taking at Malcolm X College in a few days.
I feel more confident, proud. I feel like I will be really proud of myself when I get my diploma. I hope to become a Registered Nurse one day. It’s going to be a major thing for me, I’m going to feel so much achievement and fulfillment. Going from working and serving people, to serving them in a different way and making them feel better.
When the news about DACA being ended came out, I thought, ‘Do I just keep going or do I stop school, when I really want to start again’? It’s hard. What if I’m already at my two years in school and I don’t have DACA anymore? What’s going to happen?
To people who oppose DACA, I ask you to put yourselves in our shoes. We’re not trying to steal your chances or opportunities. Everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity. Sending us back — what if it was you and your family?
As told to WE
Congress has the power to protect Camila and thousands of other DACA recipients like her, but time is short. Support immigrant working women and tell lawmakers to pass a bill for immigration reform today.
*Name has been changed.