ALLOUEZ, Wisconsin — As an immigration counselor for Catholic Charities of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Ana Rodriguez said one of her greatest joys was helping immigrants on their way to permanent residency and U.S. citizenship.
“Knowing that they are able to naturalize or even get their green cards — to have a voice — to me that’s everything,” said Rodriguez. “That’s why I love this job and that’s why I advocate for them, because I have been in their shoes. I know how it feels not to have a voice, to live in fear of the unknown.”
Rodriguez’s parents, Arturo and Maria De Lourdes Rodriguez brought her and her sister, Mariana, to the United States in 1998. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2012 to establish the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
“That day changed my life forever,” Rodriguez told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.
But DACA’s uncertain future, along with its travel restrictions abroad, led Rodriguez and her husband, Victor Amezcua, to decide to move to Canada. Nov. 8 was Rodriguez’s last day at Catholic Charities.
The future of the program — and those who have qualified for it — was left in doubt after President Donald Trump was elected. In 2017, he issued an order to end DACA. This was challenged in the lower courts and has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case Nov. 12.
DACA has provided protections to young people brought to the United States illegally as children by their parents. Often called “Dreamers,” DACA recipients received work permits and Social Security cards, and they were safe from being deported.
Through her work, Rodriguez said in a Nov. 7 interview, she got to know Jesus. “When (people) come in need and they want something, when they are hungry or they don’t have a coat in the wintertime, I try to go and find it for them. I just try to find the resources. That is Jesus coming into my office and I think, ultimately, it’s just love.”
Rodriguez said the story of immigration is about the desire for a better life. While people may not agree with the way her family and other families entered the United States, she said, understanding why they did so is an important step. Listening to their stories, she said, plants the seed of understanding.
Rodriguez’s story began while she was in third grade in Mexico City.
“My dad suddenly picked my sister and me up from school and said we were moving to the United States,” she recalled. “We had to pack only a few clothes and that was it. We didn’t get to say goodbye to my cousins, just my grandparents. That was the saddest, because that was the last time I saw my grandpa.”
Rodriguez said her father was a taxi driver. “He kept getting robbed and he was kind of tired of the situation and not being able to provide for us,” she said. “He wanted for us to own a home, get an education and a better life for us overall.”
The family traveled two days by bus and a truck to Des Moines, Iowa, where a brother of her father lived.
“My uncle offered him a job in construction,” she said. “He had family members in Iowa and Green Bay.”
“I knew we were coming here for a better life, but that meant a lot of sacrifices,” she said. “My parents had to work most of the time and we hardly got to see them. I am the oldest, so I had to take care of my sister. In a way I understood, but it was still difficult being away from my family in Mexico because I didn’t have cousins, aunts, uncles to talk to. It was just my parents and my sister.”
In 1999, they moved to Green Bay, where Ana and her sister, who is one year younger, welcomed a brother, Joseph, to their family in 2001.
Rodriguez said school was challenging, but she eventually learned English and also became a translator for other Spanish-speaking families at the schools she attended.
Rodriguez graduated from West High School in 2008 and enrolled at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.
She did not have a Social Security number but had an individual taxpayer identification number provided by the Internal Revenue Service. “Even though my parents did not have legal status, they always paid taxes because the IRS provided them with the ITIN,” she said.
From high school graduation to when she received her DACA status in 2014, Rodriguez experienced family transitions.
Her father returned to Mexico in 2007 due to failing health and no insurance. Her mom stayed to see her children finish school.
Rodriguez was married Oct. 25, 2008. Her grandfather passed away Jan. 6, 2009, and her mother returned to Mexico the following day. “My mom left knowing that she could not come back,” she said.
After receiving her DACA status, Rodriguez said doors began to open.
“When I got my Social Security number, I was able to work with authorization for the first time and was able to get my driver’s license, bank account and, eventually, my husband and I bought our first home,” she said. “It allowed me to have just a voice.”
Rodriguez began working at Catholic Charities in July 2017 and graduated from the Diocese of Green Bay’s Emmaus Lay Ministry program last spring.
When DACA’s future was in question after the 2016 elections, Rodriguez said she and her husband began to consider moving. “We never know when it will be taken away and lose our jobs and stability here.”
She got a taste of that uncertainty last summer, when her DACA renewal was delayed. Family separation was the other reason for moving, said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said the process for legal immigration — described by Democrats and Republicans as a broken system — is nearly impossible to navigate.
“People from Mexico have to wait 20-plus years just to come here legally,” she said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand.”
Rodriguez will spend the next few months in Mexico with her family before flying to Calgary in Alberta. “My husband is a welder, so there’s a lot of opportunities for him,” she said. “I want to find a job with immigration, helping people like myself, even refugees.”
“The stories I have heard from people here have changed my life,” Rodriguez added. “They came here for help from me, but they have actually changed my life in so many ways. That has been a blessing.”
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Lucero is news and information manager for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.
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