Tuesday, our future awaits
New rules, being placed
Mama said, ‘Don’t worry,
He won’t make us go.’
Monica Carrillo’s parents had never heard her sing until she found her song.
She remembers the date, the day of the week: Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. She was a senior, studying at Wood River High School, living in Blaine County, following the news in her room. When the topic would turn to immigration, the people on the screen always spoke like they knew her—like they were addressing her directly, explaining her to herself. They spoke like they, not Monica, controlled her future.
That Tuesday, it seemed true. They spoke about a series of memos out of Washington, D.C. They said President Donald Trump would rescind a program called Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era executive order granting undocumented immigrants who came into the country as minors a renewable, two-year protection from deportation. Since it was adopted in 2012, more than 825,000 “Dreamers” have applied for and received the shield, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the division of the Department of Homeland Security that processes applications. National studies suggest another million could qualify, if they applied. In 2014, as she readied to start high school, Monica added her name to the rolls.
Two years later, it looked like it was about to end.
“Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch,” then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Sept. 5, 2017. “Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach.”
The words were widely reported—the
fulfillment of a long-discussed, long-stan-
ding campaign promise of the president,
completed in his first year. Monica’s mother
—an undocumented Mexican immigrant
—swung open her bedroom door. She needed to talk to her daughter. She didn’t know what would happen next. So, she did what mothers do when they don’t know what else they can.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “He won’t make us go.”
Monica got her computer. Her head was minor chords. She took her mother’s words, took her fears, and set them all to song.
Sadness was brought upon this day,
Futures stalled as we pray,
Mama said, ‘Don’t worry,
He won’t make us go.’
DACA has held on for two years since, stretched by the court cases and arcane legal arguments that hold Monica Carrillo’s future in her hands. She’s 20 now, studying at College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. She doesn’t pay as much attention to the news—maybe once a week, she’ll check to see where the program stands. She’s too familiar with the chatter, the comment boards, the language that they use.
“I overthink it—it seems hopeless, sometimes,” she said. “If you follow it, it becomes your life.”
She couldn’t avoid the news last month. On Nov. 12, DACA had its day before the country’s highest court. The nine justices heard arguments for and against, less about DACA itself than about the legality of its ending, and whether the administration’s memos were enough to halt it. The court will announce its opinion next year, but pundits expect the conservative majority to win out, allowing Trump to end the program.
DACA isn’t citizenship, nor does it offer a path to citizenship. To be eligible, applicants must have entered the country before their 16th birthday, and have been under 31 on June 15, 2012. They must have a clean criminal record, without a felony or significant misdemeanor. They must be at least 15 and be in school, have a high school diploma or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military. And, they must have lived continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.
Protections vary by state. In Idaho, DACA recipients receive close to the minimum that Obama’s order requires. Some states allow DACA recipients to participate in government health care—including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid and tax credits under the Affordable Care Act—but Idaho doesn’t. They can’t get food stamps or federal student loans. And, while DACA allows recipients to travel freely within the U.S., it offers no guarantee they’ll be allowed back if they travel abroad. Dreamers can get a Social Security number and a work permit, which can help them get a driver’s license and a job and qualify for in-state tuition at a public university. Carrillo has used it for all three.
She came here too young to remember Mexico, and she won’t risk going back. She learned her own story in her early teens—the history of her passage to Idaho, and her parents’ transit to a new world. She’s proud of her parents, of their Hispanic heritage, and of her own. More and more, she’s proud of the work they’ve done to carve out a life for their family. It motivates her to study, to sing, to reach beyond herself. And her parents are proud of the places Monica is carrying their name.
They’re close, the Carrillos, but until the week DACA began to disappear, her mother and father hadn’t heard her sing.
When her mother left the room, Monica wrote lyrics in English. She filled in the Spanish verses throughout the week that followed. It happened quickly, strummed out in an E minor key. She finished recording on Friday, and gathered her parents around. They scarcely recognized the voice.
“Is this really you?” one asked. “Singing?” When the song ended, their message came clear: “You have to share.”
On Saturday, she did, uploading a polished version of “Dreamer” to the internet.
As you try to tear us down,
We deserve these rights
And this is our home now,
We are not backing down.
At Wood River High School, Monica didn’t know who had papers and who didn’t. But when she stood up, people gathered around her. Around her music. She performed at homecoming, then Hailey’s Hispanic Heritage Festival, then got gigs in Twin Falls. Over the two years since writing the song, she has performed “Dreamer” as far away as San Francisco. In September, she released the song, along with four others, on an EP called “Heartless,” under her stage name: Lil’ Immigrant.
“It’s about trying to figure out who I am,” she said of the album. “Publicly stated, I’m illegal. I’m trying to understand these different parts of myself. I got fed up with always hiding. It built up. So now I’m saying, ‘This is who I am. If you don’t like it, so what?’”
Others noticed. Herbert Romero, a local Latino leader, got her gigs. He helped her make connections. And, he said, people responded.
“That’s bravery, what she’s doing,” Romero said. “It’s risky, without a doubt. It’s not just a performance. Not just talent. She believes her lyrics. She believes in others going through the same struggle. Her way of dealing with it, rather than shame and fear, is to put it out there. And we’re stepping out with her.”
After graduation, Carrillo partnered with Nosotros United, the high school’s cross-cultural alliance, to use proceeds from “Dreamer” to fund a scholarship aimed at DACA recipients and undocumented students, who aren’t eligible for federal student aid. In its first year, she was able to award $1,000 to a senior in the club. She hopes to keep that going, and to reach more people, in other ways.
“The only reason is because I came out like I did,” she said of all that’s happened since. “I have people messaging me, offering to help or asking me for advice.”
Her answers usually start the same.
“I tell them it’s OK to stand up, to get out there in the community, to participate at school. I tell them, do what you want to do—and know why you’re doing it.”
We are dreamers
I’m a dreamer
We are dreamers.