For San Marcos resident Joel Ruiz, the 894-mile journey from Mexico to the U.S. was about finding a better life and pursuing a dream based on the stories of those who had left before.
“The reason we moved (to the U.S.) was just like any normal illegal family, just trying to find a better way—the whole American Dream thing—but so far, it’s been hard ...,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz’s life changed through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which grants a two-year reprieve for certain undocumented immigrants. Ruiz recently applied and was granted the reprieve, but his journey to obtaining it has not been easy.
Ruiz was born in the major port city of Veracruz, Mexico and was raised in San Luis Potosí, located halfway between Mexico City and the U.S. border. At 7 years old, Ruiz and his immediate family left the sounds of swallows and the taste of enchiladas potosinas for Lockhart, later moving to the small town of East Bernard.
The decision to leave Mexico for Texas was not made on a whim. Ruiz’s father would occasionally visit family in Texas and had made preparations for the move, said Alma Mora, Ruiz’s girlfriend.
“(Ruiz) never gets into detail about why he came over,” said Mora, anthropology senior. “Some sort of trouble that had started there. The drug cartels and gangs were barely starting in the area (of Mexico) he lived in.”
After the birth of Ruiz’s sister, with money his father had saved and help from family in Texas, the family took the risk to cross into the U.S.
That risk paid off.
Ruiz lived most of his life as an American with no problem, but began to run into trouble when he enrolled at a nearby community college to study nursing.
The college was a 15-minute drive from his home, but without a license or any form of government identification, he was forced to depend on others for transportation.
Ruiz succeeded in graduating from community college and set his sights on enrolling at Texas State. However, the tuition is too expensive for him to afford, and financial aid is not available because of his immigration status.
“Honestly, I never asked to come here and go through all these troubles, but I went ahead and went through it all,” said Ruiz. “I grew up here and this is all I know.”
Although his higher education plans have been temporarily put on hold, Ruiz’s move to San Marcos has not been in vain.
It is here he met Mora at a party. They became friends, swapping stories about their lives, but not their immigration status—until Ruiz’s roommate told Mora the truth.
“He’s just another person,” Mora said. “His English is better than mine ... I was so surprised.”
Mora said it has been difficult financially supporting herself and Ruiz. She uses her financial aid and money earned from her job to help pay rent because it has been difficult for him to find steady work. She said their situation is especially frustrating because Ruiz did so well in community college and wants to further his studies. He currently works in construction.
“(Ruiz) learned all the things we learned. He passed all the tests,” Mora said. “I’ve seen him basically start to get depressed because he’s hit a dead end. He doesn’t know what to do with his life.”
Under the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has stalled in congress, Ruiz may have been eligible for student loans and federal work-study programs. The act would create a path to citizenship for undocumented youth upon completion of a degree or two years of military service.
Even though the D.R.E.A.M. Act hasn’t passed, Ruiz said deferred action is not a bad temporary solution.
Those who are eligible for deferred action must mail in their request for a deportation deferral and separate forms for a work permit. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security began accepting applications last August.
Ruiz and his 19-year-old brother began what he considered a “really long and complicated” two-month deportation deferral process last summer, which included over $3,000 in legal and processing fees. The $465 application fee is meant to defray program administration costs.
“Basically, in that time, it’s just fear of what could happen, what could go wrong: us getting thrown back, not being able to get a job, a driver’s license,” Ruiz said. “Now we’re just waiting and seeing what happens.”
Ruiz recently received his work authorization card, following the approval of his younger brother’s application.
They have joined the 4,500 others who have completed the process of deferred action and received their temporary work permits.
“It’s not permanent,” Mora said. “As long as he’s doing his part, he’s guaranteed the next two years.”