Undocumented immigrant vows to fight for rights when Trump takes office

DACA recipient Maria Ibarra says community needs to come together

MCALLEN, Texas – With President Donald Trump in the the White House, undocumented immigrant and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient Maria Ibarra, 23, said communities like hers feel that their rights may be in jeopardy. But many like her are taking action to make sure that doesn't happen.

DACA grants legal presence for two years to those who came to the U.S. under the age of 16. The 2012 policy created by President Obama in 2012 grants work permits and Social Security numbers to those who qualify. Without DACA, Ibarra said everything she's worked so hard for is in jeopardy.

Ibarra's mother brought her and her siblings to the U.S. from Durango, Mexico, when Ibarra was 8 years old. Ibarra said she adjusted to life quickly in Rio Grande City and was able to pick up the English language quickly.

Ibarra said she never felt undocumented until she attended high school. She said her friends would apply for a driver's license, and she would be questioned as to why she never got her license.

"My friends would always ask me, 'Why don't you have your driver's license?' I would make up lies and say, 'We don't have money to pay the class, or we don't have an extra car.' You know, all these things to avoid saying I was undocumented, because I had never told anybody," Ibarra said.

Once it came time to apply for colleges, Ibarra said she felt left out. She said she thought she was unable to go to college. A program called Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs helped her achieve her dream of going to college and provided her the knowledge to understand the process.

A facilitator for the program asked Ibarra why she would always attend college preparation courses but never applied to college. Ibarra then for the first time revealed to someone that she was undocumented and thought she couldn't go to college.

The facilitator told her a Social Security number wasn't needed to go to college and encouraged her to apply.

"You best believe I took my ACT. The priority deadline for a lot of Texas universities was coming up, so I hurried up and did that paperwork, too," she said.

After seeing the proposed federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, fail to pass, she knew leaving for college wasn't an option. Ibarra said she felt devastated, but still had a glimmer of hope for going to college in the Rio Grande Valley at the University of Texas-Pan American, now known as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

It was at college where Ibarra was able to join groups that help immigrants, such as United We Dream and the Minority Affairs Council, without revealing her legal status.

"I became very heavily involved with Minority Affairs Council without revealing that I was undocumented," Ibarra said.

When it was announced that DACA would become a reality on June 15, 2012, Ibarra said she couldn't believe it.

"I remember I was at an elevator, at the library elevator, to meet someone, and I just remember screaming," Ibarra said. "It was a really good feeling."

That day, a press conference for Minority Affairs Council and United We Dream would land Ibarra in the spotlight and reveal what she had kept hidden for so long.

"I had been working for six months without telling my undocumented community that I, too, was undocumented, so it was kind of shady," she said. "I remember when Obama was finished giving his speech, I just looked at him (a colleague) and he just looked at me and we just hugged."

A photographer from a local newspaper snapped a picture of the two during the historic moment.

"The next day, my face is plastered over newspapers all around the country and in Mexico and other parts of the world," Ibarra said. "The (local) newspaper had really big, bold letters on the top, saying 'Dream On,' and it had my face on it."

At that moment, Ibarra said she felt scared not only for herself, but for her family.

"I lived in Rio Grande City, where there's Border Patrol (agents) everywhere," she said. "One of the things that I wanted to make sure when I was joining the movement was that I wasn't putting their (family's) liberty at risk."

Ibarra said that's when she said her fight for the immigration movement truly began. She said if she didn't speak up, people were going to say whatever they wanted about her.

"That moment, I had to decide. I had to own my story of being undocumented, which a lot of people don't realize has an impact on you, not just in the things you can and can't do, but in the psychological problems and worry that you constantly have," Ibarra said. "You don't know why your mom isn't answering the phone, why your sister is not answering. Am I going to come home the next day?"

Ibarra said her community was very supportive of her decision to come out of the shadows as an undocumented person.

"Things started taking off from there, and we put up DACA clinics to help the community apply. I didn't apply for DACA until six months after it was rolled out," Ibarra said. "Mainly it was because of the lack of money, but by the time I did, I was already an expert, so I did it on my own."

Ibarra said she's been very blessed ever since with DACA and the opportunities it has given her. She said they've all in some way or another gone to benefit communities in the Rio Grande Valley.

"I feel like my place is in the Valley. Even before I had DACA, I had all the resources and tools to get where I wanted to be," Ibarra said. "I know I am more useful on the ground than I would be sitting in an office."

Ibarra now works at La Union del Pueblo Entero, a member organization that helps immigrants and inhabitants of colonias. As an education and geographic information systems specialist, she maps colonias so organizing can be more efficient and colonia inhabitants can get together to resolve issues in the communities.

A campaign called the Community Resistance Campaign is what the organization is using to fight back against the proposed policies against immigrants from the Trump administration.

"Obviously, Trump has had very polemic hot topic policies that he's been talking about. It ranges everything from education to immigration to business, and things that we know are going to be very hurtful to our community on all fronts," Ibarra said.

The campaign looks at local government, organizations and school districts to see what can be done to protect the community from what may affect them from the federal and state levels.

"There's a lot of anti-immigrant bills, even bills that prohibit anti-discrimination laws in the Texas Legislature, so there's going to be a lot of work. But our Community Resistance Campaign ... we had the largest number of organizations show up to our march," Ibarra said. "We know that they want to join because they want to support. But all of the issues that we care about, whether we see eye-to-eye on everything or not, are being targeted. And the only way that we're going to all win is if we're united."

Ibarra said the purpose of the campaign is to take action before the Trump administration decides what's going to happen.

"We're going to take action, and we're going to continue to work with our community and other organizations," she said.

Ibarra said with the new administration, she still feels an uncertainty for her family and others across the country in the same position.

"I was able to taste a little freedom and that freedom could be taken away," Ibarra said. "No more job security, no more health care that I get from my job."

But at the end of the day, Ibarra said she has her whole community behind her and thinks it's better to take action than to worry.

"Why do I worry? I know what my rights are, and if I get detained, I know what I need to do," Ibarra said. "What drives me is all those people that don't know what their rights are. Every day, I can wake up feeling like my DACA's going to be taken away, but I just can't stop. If not having DACA didn't stop me ... why should I be worried about not having it now?"

"You can take away my DACA, but you cannot take away my 'ganas' to fight," Ibarra said.

About the Author:

Ivan Herrera has worked as a journalist in San Antonio since 2016. His work for KSAT 12 and KSAT.com includes covering breaking news of the day, as well as producing Q&As and content for the "South Texas Pride" and "KSAT Money" series.