Ephrata dreamer waits…and worries

By on January 17, 2018
Photo by Bonnie Adams Ephrata  High  School  grad  and  Dreamer  Mayra  Ramirez-Guzman  with her daughter, Yaretzi Gomez,

 Ephrata High School grad and Dreamer Mayra Ramirez-Guzman with her daughter, Yaretzi Gomez. Photo by Bonnie Adams.

The uncertainty of whether Mayra Ramirez-Guzman will be allowed to stay in this country with her little girl has haunted her for months.

She put her college education on hold and said her family has planned to return to Mexico if she is deported.

Her three-year old daughter and three younger brothers were born here and are U.S. citizens. Mayra is not. The 24-year-old Ephrata High School graduate came here when she was five.

“I’m a dreamer, a mother, a daughter,” she said. Mayra fears deportation if the United States doesn’t resolve the issue affecting her and numerous other young immigrants known as Dreamers.

She spoke of her concerns as her daughter played nearby on the cellphone with animated princesses.

“Unfortunately, this government has an expiration date on me,” Mayra said. She is among approximately 800,000 immigrants whose future has been in question since September. That’s when the United States announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would end in six months if Congress didn’t find a permanent solution. DACA has protected illegal immigrants who came here as children.

“I think it was more like a stab to the heart,” she said. Mayra works as a nursing assistant at Lancaster General Hospital and was to enter her final college semester studying criminal justice. Worrying about her future with her daughter proved too distracting.

“That last semester, I was struggling.” she said. She skipped this semester and said finishing her associate degree at Harrisburg Area Community College seemed pointless if she were to be deported.

“I’m a contributing member of society.”

Despite the uncertainty, Mayra is determined and hopeful that she will someday fulfill her passion in a career in probation and parole. She also wants to be a certified interpreter for the Pennsylvania court system.

“I’ll get there,” she said.

The DACA issue has taken many twists and turns since President Trump gave Congress until March to pass new legislation. A federal judge this month temporarily blocked the administration’s decision to end DACA. Mayra said she is pleased that immigrants who need to renew their DACA status can now do so. The status lasts for two years and Mayra’s next DACA renewal is in October, 2019, which she calls her “expiration date.”

She credits an area organization for keeping her updated and giving her hope and a voice in recent months. Mayra has been involved with the Church World Services in Lancaster that offers legal counseling and other services for immigrants and refugees in Central Pennsylvania.

Carrie Carranza is a legal immigration counselor with CWS and represents clients to the Department of Homeland Security as a Department of Justice accredited representative. She has gotten to know Mayra during meetings that 20 to 30 other dreamers typically attend.

“She really amazes me,” Carranza said. She said Mayra consistently attends meetings and has volunteered to get involved and speak with legislators.

“She’s just very responsible and takes on a lot,” Carranza said. The counselor said 5,000 to 6,000 Pennsylvanians are DACA recipients among 15,000 who are eligible. She said her organization has helped about 80 to 100 DACA clients since 2012 but it is difficult to estimate how many dreamers live in Lancaster County. She sees firsthand the impact that the DACA controversy has had.

“It’s no longer stress. It’s now bordering on anxiety and depression,” Carranza said. She said it is a disheartening situation with so much back and forth going on in Washington, D.C.

Carranza said that ideally, she would like to see a “clean” Dream act that would include a full path to citizenship. A clean act would create a pathway to U.S. citizenship without funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and other inclusions.

“My hope is that legislators will listen to the American people,” she said. Carranza is not a dreamer but she is from an immigrant family. “It’s a sad and stressful situation.”

Carranza wrote in a Lancaster Newspapers letter to the editor that DACA has protected people from deportation, permitted them to work, obtain a Social Security number and a Pennsylvania driver’s license. She said DACA doesn’t make them eligible for welfare benefits, free tuition or so-called “government handouts” nor is it a “path to citizenship.”

Mayra said that writing is her escape. Her letter to the editor published this month said the unresolved immigration issue can tear apart families and chided those who call her daughter an “anchor baby.” That term has been used to imply that that U.S. born babies serve to help their parents obtain legal immigration status.

Mayra wrote, “…just remember you are one as well because at the end of the day the true Americans are the indigenous people. If they were subjected to current immigration laws, many of your ancestors wouldn’t have been welcomed here. They came looking for the same dream that my family and I have come for as well — security, prosperity and a chance.”

Her high school graduation day in 2011 was bittersweet because of her status as an illegal immigrant. “To me it was the end of my education. Instead of celebrating, I was holding back tears.”

When the Obama administration announced DACA in 2012, Mayra immediately applied and was accepted. “It was such a relief,” she said.

Mayra said her family has discussed her future and plans to return with her to Mexico if she must leave this country after living here for 19 years. Her parents are not U.S. citizens. She recalled her initial time here where she had to repeat kindergarten. “The first few months were horrible. I didn’t know any English.”

Her two grandmothers and other relatives still live in Mexico. She is working on dual citizenship for her daughter, Yaretzi Gomez. Mayra said it’s unfair that her brothers and daughter would leave the United States to accompany her.

“Why should she have to give up all her rights?” she said of Yaretzi.

And she questions returning adult dreamers like herself to countries they left as children long ago to live in the United States.

“This is all we know.”

Bonnie Adams is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

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