In 2008, after Maggie Loredo graduated from high school with top grades, she soon realized that financial aid and scholarships were out of her reach. Though Loredo grew up in Texas and Georgia, she was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, coming to the United States with her family at age two. As a still-undocumented immigrant, she felt her dreams of going to college come crashing down. Feeling powerless and fearing the threat of deportation, Loredo returned to Mexico.
In 2012, the Obama administration introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, which permitted some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to receive work permits and renewal relief from deportation.
If Loredo had remained in the United States, she would have been eligible. “When [Obama] announced DACA, it was such a bittersweet moment, knowing that if I had stayed, I would have qualified,” says Loredo. “But then, as the years went by, I knew that DACA wasn’t enough, that it was just a Band-Aid for a larger wound. It made me realize that at the end of the day, it still failed to give us full rights and people are still being criminalized. It was still creating the good versus the bad, the deserving versus the undeserving immigrant.”
Now 28, Loredo is the co-founder and co-director of Otros Dreams en Acción (ODA), a local organization founded in late 2015 that supports and works with deported and returning immigrant youth, many of whom, like Loredo, have no memory of living in Mexico. ODA is part of a growing network of immigrants’-rights activist groups in Mexico, but the group stands out because three of its most senior leaders — Claudia Amaro, Jill Anderson, and Maggie Loredo — are women.
Last week, the US House of Representatives voted on two immigration bills: a conservative one that will make deeper cuts to legal immigration and will not offer citizenship for the estimated 800,000 DREAMers, and a “compromise” one that will offer a path to citizenship for DACA recipients based on merit, direct billions of dollars to build a southern border wall, and make asylum and legal immigration much harder. However, if any of these bills pass, it will be solely on Republican votes, as Democrats have called these bills “nonstarters.” In 2017, the Trump administration successfully ended the DACA program for any new applicants, but the Supreme Court’s delayed ruling earlier this year means that current DACA recipients can apply for renewal. On Friday, the House rejected the conservative immigration bill, and it is set to vote on the compromise bill later this week.
While DACA remains in limbo on Capitol Hill, the Trump administration continues to push hostile immigration policies. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced a zero-tolerance policy, ordering prosecutors to pursue charges against people who cross the US-Mexico border illegally. Facing prosecution, parents are now needlessly separated from their children at the border, and these children are shipped to detention centers, viewed as unaccompanied minors by the federal government. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Trump administration separated more than 2,000 children from their parents at the border between April 19 and last Tuesday. Trump overturned forced family separation last Wednesday with an executive order after international outrage from the media, activists, citizens, and world leaders. It means, for now, families will be kept in detention centers as a unit during prosecuting, though it violates the law of limitations placed on how long children can be detained. Sessions also recently announced that domestic abuse and gang-related violence would no longer be reason to grant people asylum.
With America’s new inhumane approach to immigration policy and the uncertainty about the future of DACA, Loredo says “deportations are likely to rise,” and so the work she and the team at ODA are doing is “increasingly vital.” For her, the work is intensely personal. When she returned to San Luis Potosi in 2008, Loredo felt ashamed, isolated, and received little local and governmental support. In fact, it took her five years to validate her high-school diploma in Mexico so she could go to college. She doesn’t want deported and returning youth to have the same experience, so through ODA, she works to find jobs and community for them, to help them reacclimate to Mexican culture, and to assist them in obtaining legal documents.
The group also advocates for better policies from the Mexican government, which ODA says is not doing enough. After Trump was elected, Mexican schools and universities began preparing for a wave of deportations by working with politicians to streamline the process of transferring deportees and returnees from American schools and providing resources for financing their educations. But Anderson, Loredo, and other advocates lament that the Mexican government needs better policies to make the process of repatriation easier, especially for those who have a limited education or cannot afford to go back to school. In February 2017, Anderson testified before the Mexican Senate, arguing that even with the changes in the government, the strict requirements still placed an undue burden on students wanting to attend school or college in Mexico. Currently, students must demonstrate that their college degrees carry a 75 percent curricular equivalency to a degree in Mexico, which is impossible in most cases.
Seventeen-year-old Sayra Hernandez connected with ODA when she was deported with her mother, leaving her younger sister behind, after their application for asylum was rejected in 2016. Hernandez struggled to validate her US high-school education in Mexico, and her parents were left with no choice but to enroll her in private school, which costs thousands of dollars and took a financial toll on the family.
“I felt really bad, like my dreams were crushed. I came back here and I couldn’t talk to anybody. I became depressed. I wouldn’t go out; I wouldn’t eat,” says Hernandez. “Back when I was in Michigan [where she grew up], I had dreams. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to keep studying. Now it’s like, What do I do?”
Where ODA really stands out from other immigrants’-rights groups is with what Anderson refers to as a “transnational approach.” The group is invested in and actively advocates for better policies for immigrants in Mexico and in the United States. Increasingly, ODA advocates for free mobility across the US-Mexico border, as many deportees and returnees still see the United States as home. In 2015, Loredo successfully applied and was given a ten-year tourist visa. She says that being able to visit the United States “helped her receive some closure about her decision to return.”
Leni Alvarez, a 24-year-old anthropology student, returned to Mexico from Arcadia, Florida, in 2009, after her father received a driving ticket and the family feared he would be deported. Alvarez tells me that working with ODA has “changed my life and allowed me to believe that there is life after, even after experiencing my worst nightmare.”
Like Loredo, Alvarez says that being able to return to the United States one day — to have a binational recognition as being both Mexican and American — will help her gain some closure.
“When we returned back to Mexico and we were walking down the streets, my mom would tell us, ‘This is the street I played on when I was a child,’” Alvarez says. “It made me realize that I can’t do that. I can’t take my sister to the park and say, ‘Hey, this is where we played when we were little girls,’ because I’m not allowed entry; I’m not allowed to go to the place I call home; I’m not allowed to roam the streets that I would walk on when I was a child.”
While many of ODA’s members and organizers have the shared experiences of deportation or returning, Loredo stresses that it’s important that they’re seen beyond their stories.
“We really don’t want to be seen just as testimonies. I think it’s important for us to be seen beyond stories. We are people who are using our experiences in order to make change, to be part of change, either here [in Mexico] or in the States,” she says.
As the Trump administration continues to stigmatize immigrants and pursue measures to punish undocumented people, the women at ODA recognize that much more needs to be done in Mexico to ensure that deportees and returnees feel welcome and are given every possibility to thrive.
June Eric-Udorie is a journalist and feminist activist whose writing has appeared in Catapult, ESPN, The Guardian, the New Statesman, and more. In 2016, the BBC included her in the top 100 inspirational and influential women for 2016. Can We All Be Feminists?, an anthology of intersectional feminist writing, edited by June Eric-Udorie, will be published by Penguin Books on September 25. She is currently an undergraduate at Duke University.