A Farm Worker with Dreams has DACA Application Approved

Farmworker Justice has been working with the UFW Foundation and other farmworker groups to identify and address some of the unique barriers that farmworkers and their family members may face in accessing the recent Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. The following guest blog by John Menditto, CEO, East Coast Migrant Head Start Program, highlights a successful story of a farmworker who was recently accepted into the DACA program. More information on DACA and farmworkers is available here.

A Farm Worker with Dreams has DACA Application Approved

Guest Blogger: John Menditto

Maria Sanchez Martinez was brought to the United States of America in 1992 at the age of 9 from her birth country of Mexico. It was a hard transition. “The hardest thing was getting used to the new school. I didn’t speak English and I couldn’t even go to the bathroom because I didn’t know how to ask.”

Maria, though, persevered. She learned English quickly and did well at her school in Sumter, South Carolina. “I was good in school, my grades were good, but we had no money.” The pressure to help her family led to a momentous decision. She dropped out of school after the seventh grade and, at the age of 14, she started doing farm work. Her first job was picking cucumbers from six in the morning until after five in the afternoon.

Maria’s decision to leave school had her growing up quick. She soon became a mom and in 2010 her second child was born. This was the year that her life began to take a different course; it was the year she first enrolled her children in a Migrant Head Start center. “I could say it changed my whole life.” The Migrant Head Start Center, located in Lake City, South Carolina, was operated by Wateree Community Actions, Inc., under a contract with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Encouraged by the father of her children, Maria ran for a leadership position on the Parent Committee of her Migrant Head Start Center and won. The following year, Maria was elected to the Policy Council of ECMHSP, and in 2012 she was elected to be the group’s Vice President.

Maria thrived in her leadership role within her Migrant Head Start center and within the Policy Council, a body which shares governing authority with the Board of Directors of ECMHSP. Still, there were barriers to her further growth. She remained a middle school dropout, and she lived in constant fear of being separated from her children through immigration enforcement.

All this changed on June 15, 2012, when President Obama announced a new policy on immigration enforcement: deferred action for childhood arrivals, also known as DACA.
“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Maria observed, “and the people around me in the Policy Council pushed me to apply.”

There are a number of qualifying factors to receive deferred action, including a requirement to have attained a high school degree or be “in school” and pursuing a course of study to attain a General Equivalency Diploma. This factor can be daunting for a farm worker, but Maria didn’t hesitate to make her dream of security a reality. On August 20th, she enrolled in a course of study to attain her GED at Lifelong Learning Center, operated by the Florence School District in Lake City. Two weeks later, with the help of ECMHSP’s Chief Executive Officer, John E. Menditto, she filed her I-821D application for deferred action and her I-765 application for employment authorization.

After the application was filed one hurdle remained. In October, Maria travelled from her home in Lake City to the Department of Homeland Security’s offices in Charleston to have her biometrics taken. Maria didn’t have any criminal records that would make her ineligible for the deferred action program, but she was still fearful of this step in the process. To ease her concerns, Chloe Garrison, a Family and Community Partnership Specialist from ECMHSP’s Migrant Head Start center in Charleston County, met Maria before her appointment and accompanied her throughout her visit with DHS.

After the biometric appointment was complete the only thing left for Maria to do was to wait and continue to dream. On December 17th, four days before her 20th birthday and one week before Christmas, Maria received notice that her DACA application had been approved. Maria was overjoyed. “I have never been so happy. My friends are joking with me that now that my DACA application has been approved that the world is going to end. But I tell them that the world isn’t going to end; we are just starting a new stage.”