Detroit — Juan Gonzalez hopes to become an immigration lawyer and help people like himself, who, at just 1 years old, came with his family to America.
It was on his first day as a dishwasher, as a teen, that Gonzalez realized how important it was to have a Social Security number. He was asked for his, and because he didn’t have one, was sent home.
“I went home in tears,” said Gonzalez, 24, said. “Why wouldn’t they let me work?”
He was in tears later, too, when he tried to join the military.
Not until the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in 2012, was the cloud of his legal status lifted. Six months from now the uncertainty could return after the announcement this month that the Trump administration was ending the program.
The news sent shock waves through the immigrant community, especially the so-called Dreamers, some 6,400 in Michigan.
On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence held a news conference in southwest Detroit to allow DACA participants to tell their stories and push for passage of a law that would allow the 800,000 to remain in America without fear of deportation.
Nothing less than a path to citizenship is acceptable, said Lawrence, D-Southfield.
“These are people who came over at 2, 3 years old,” she said. “America is all they’ve ever known, and they should have the chance to become citizens.”
Indeed, Gonzalez, who works in underwriting at Quicken Loans, considers a “return to the shadows,” not able to have a driver’s license or a job that didn’t pay under the table, an unacceptable outcome.
“This was a blessing in disguise, because it woke everybody up,” Gonzales said. “We have to get something done now. We want a path (to citizenship). We demand a path.”
Xochitl Cossyleon didn’t know of her undocumented legal status until her junior year at Western International High School, across the street from Clark Park in southwest Detroit, where Sunday’s rally was held. Just that quickly, her dream of attending the University of Michigan went away.
Cossyleon was able to attend the University of Detroit Mercy and become a high school history teacher under DACA, which gave immigrants the right to earn an income, attend school or join the military as long as they stayed out of trouble. The deadline to apply for DACA before the cutoff is Oct. 5, assuming Congress doesn’t act.
Cossyleon, 24, came from Mexico at age 2, she said.
“I’m from Mexico, but not really,” Cossyleon said. “This is the only country I pledge allegiance to.”
“I’m here to put a face to the problem,” Cossyleon said. “I know I have to step up, because a lot of us are scared.”
Cossyleon urged passage of a path to citizenship for DACA participants, but by means of a “clean” bill, unattached to other issues, alluding to pairing citizenship to other pressing matters.
“We’re not pawns, we’re people,” she said.
Lawrence said the important thing was to pass a path to citizenship into law.
Lawrence was joined U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, state Senator Ian Conyers, D-Detroit, Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen and Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski.