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Dr. Yuriana Aguilar, A DACA Recipient: My Parents “See The American Dream Fulfilling In Me”

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“Will America be a stronger country if we deport Luis,” Sen. Dick Durbin asked during a floor speech last week, “or if he stays here and becomes a high school teacher?”

A quick watch of Sen. Durbin’s speech makes the answer crystal clear.

Luis, a DACA recipient, volunteers as a tutor when he isn’t busy with his own studies at Georgetown. Luis should be destined to have a bright future, but if President-elect Trump decides to end DACA when he takes office later this month, Luis could be forced back to a country he hasn’t lived in since he was eight.

Sen. Durbin shares more of Luis’ story below.

Like Luis, Yuriana’s future hinges on the future of DACA. 

As a researcher at UC Merced, Dr. Yuriana Aguilar, the daughter of undocumented farm workers, was already breaking barriers as the first undocumented student to get her doctorate at the school. Her dream is to one day open her own medical research lab, and the work she’s doing now — “looking at mouse hearts to figure out what happens in the human heart just before sudden cardiac death” — could one day save your life or mine.

More on Dr. Aguilar’s story from KQED:

She came to California from Mexico with her farmworker parents when she was 5. None of them have immigration papers.

“Everybody has the American dream,” Aguilar says. “They think, ‘We’re going to strive, we’re going to have our own homes, our own businesses.’ My parents have not been better off economically. But they see the American dream fulfilling in me. That keeps me going.”

Aguilar has worked her way through school picking watermelons, cleaning hotels and selling produce at flea markets.

“There are fears. I fear that if I’m in the flea market, and they’re doing deportations or something, nobody’s going to care that I have a title,” she says.

As an undergraduate, Aguilar wasn’t eligible for many grants and scholarships. Her parents sold enchiladas and vegetables to help pay her costs. Once she got her bachelor’s degree, she was working as an unpaid volunteer in the lab when the Obama administration announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

“I remember, I was here in the lab when I was watching the news about DACA. I cried,” she says. “I was here with the heart, so that was very emotional. To see that I could actually do this, that it would allow me to continue to work here.”


Ana Torres starts to cry as she tells me how proud she is of her daughter getting her Ph.D. She walks over to hug her.

“I am crying, but they’re happy tears,” says Torres. “Before, I was crying tears of sadness. Especially when Yuriana would call me to tell me that people cared more about her documents than about her intelligence or her perseverance in getting ahead.”

“Thank you for believing in me,” says Yuriana, “even though there were so many obstacles in our way. I remember you always told me that no one can take away your education. The government may not give you papers, but they can’t take away your learning.”

“That’s right,” says Torres. “I always told you that learning lasts you your whole life. It’s the only inheritance you’re going to get from us, and as long as we have feet to stand on and hands to work, we’re going to support you.”