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After missing DACA, she resented her US-born siblings. Trump ruined her second chance

Cindy Carcamo and Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The teen didn't talk with her mother and grew distant from her family. She still did her chores, kept up her grades and ate dinner with them almost every day, but would find any chance to retreat into her room and into herself.

Her mother enrolled her in a youth program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, where Rotzely found others who had also missed qualifying for DACA. Eventually, her anger faded

Rotzely, who earns stellar grades, said she's hunted for a part-time, after-school job since last year to help her save for college. But her lack of legal status has made it tough.

"I see how all my friends easily just go to a restaurant or like a known place like Starbucks or McDonald's and work there and I have to find all these special jobs that will just pay me cash," she said. "It's just a constant reminder that I wasn't born here and that this country won't see me the same as other people."

Just outside Los Angeles, sisters Lisette and Kathy are a California success story: Lisette, 21, attends UCLA, and Kathy, 18, UC Santa Barbara.

Though they're close in age, Lisette said she grew up taking care of Kathy. Their parents -- who brought them illegally to the U.S. from Central America when they were 6 and 3 years old, respectively -- had to work odd jobs nonstop to make ends meet. Lisette asked to keep their last name and certain identifying details out to protect her family from potential retaliation.

The sisters are close, quick to laugh and echo each other. But there's a big divide: Lisette is a DACA recipient; Kathy was just shy of being able to apply. Their little brother, roughly a decade behind, is a U.S. citizen.

"I never got upset my parents were always at work," Lisette said. "Eventually I started to understand that my responsibility was to take care of my siblings."

When an uncle found out about DACA, Lisette let herself think for the first time about college and working to support her family. She applied. "It meant the world to have it," she said.

But Kathy struggled with feelings of guilt and frustration when she went days at a time without seeing her older sister because Lisette worked such long hours, on top of school. "There was just the glaring fact I couldn't ignore," Kathy said: Lisette had DACA; she didn't.

"It would've been easier if I could've shared the burden with her, but I just couldn't," Kathy said.

Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, associate clinical professor of law at Cornell law school, said she has represented a number of clients with DACA whose younger siblings "just barely missed the cutoff" when the program was put on hold, and who are again left insecure.

"Those who do have DACA feel the arbitrariness of a system that blessed them with the ability to work lawfully and not be afraid in their day-to-day lives, and yet their siblings or their parents are in this limbo," she said. "It creates a lot of anxiety for the person who has to be the one DACA recipient holding that load for the family."

Luckily, Lisette and Kathy's little brother, age 10, doesn't seem too aware of the tension -- he cares only about video games, they joked.

"I am just extremely glad he won't have to go through what we have to go through," Lisette said.


Back in Oxnard, Basurto said that she eventually let go of the resentment toward her U.S.-citizen siblings.

She told herself, "I have to pick myself up and pick up my own community because nobody else is going to do it."

She started to volunteer as a Mixtec interpreter. She provided translation services and helped create food drives for Mixtec farmworkers impacted by the 2017 Thomas Fire in Ventura County.

It became a full-time job; she didn't need DACA to make a living.

Although federal law prohibits employers from hiring someone residing in the country illegally, there is no law prohibiting such a person from starting a business or becoming an independent contractor like Basurto.

Her older siblings who qualified for the program moved on with their lives. Her brother travels the state making artwork for buildings and her sister has an office job and cares for her children. Unlike Basurto, they never got involved in advocating for their community.

"My older siblings live normal lives. They go to work and back home to their families," she said. "I think outside myself. I speak for folks who don't have confidence or the safety to advocate for themselves."

Sometimes Basurto ponders what her life would have been like with DACA. She thinks of the DACA recipients pacified by their new entry into something resembling an American life. In a way, she believes, DACA stunted the same youth-led nationwide activism that won DACA protections in the first place.

"I know folks who ended up getting DACA and forgot that there are folks who fought for it and those who are still undocumented," Basurto said. "If I had gotten DACA, I would have most likely become one of those folks."

The end of DACA could be seen as a blessing, Basurto argued. It reawakened a movement.

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