Enrique Rey was seven when he was told his mother had died. She lost her long battle against liver cancer and the world as he knew it changed forever.
Enrique’s dad was an alcoholic and never took care of him. After he lost his mother, he went to live with his sister and her family. Growing up in a small town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, was difficult. He was used to his mother’s loving care.
“I spent a lot of time alone at my sister’s house,” he said. “Although I was very small, I still remember my mother’s face, her voice, and I have vivid memories of her.”
His older sister lived in Des Moines at the time, and she told her family that Enrique would be better off living with her; he would have a better future and she would care for him properly. The family agreed, and his older brother was charged with bringing him to Iowa when Enrique was only eight.
Right after he moved to the Des Moines area, he started second grade at Crestview Elementary School, in Clive. It was very difficult for him to adapt to a new school system, especially because he needed to learn English.
Of his early school experience, Enrique said, “I was bullied because I didn’t speak English, kids were making fun of me constantly.”
There were only two other Latinos in his class, so he didn’t feel as comfortable as he felt at his old school in Mexico, and he often felt depressed. After the first year, he began to get used to his new life and started making friends, which helped him feel much better.
Enrique grew up and graduated from high school with very good grades and with dreams of going to college to study auto mechanics. Cars were his passion since he was a little boy. His dream was an impossible dream at the time, as there was no way for an undocumented young person to attend college.
The American Immigration Council does a great job of explaining the beginnings of some sort of solution for these young immigrants, and it also explains DACA in a 2019 article.
“The first version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was introduced in 2001. As a result, young undocumented immigrants have since been called ‘Dreamers.’ On June 15, 2012, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, providing temporary relief from deportation (deferred action) and work authorization to certain young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.”
I cite this long excerpt simply because it is difficult to cover such a complex subject. It is also important to say that DACA is a program, not a law, and therefore not a permanent solution for Dreamers like Enrique.
“When the program DACA was put in place [in 2012], I felt protected,” he said. “With more opportunities, they were giving me a chance to work legally, go to school, and more than anything, it gave me hope and motivation to do better and keep going.”
Before DACA, Enrique used to be afraid of the police all the time. He feared arrest and immigration authorities.
After finishing high school, Enrique felt he had to work to help his family and pay his own bills. His first job was at Mr. Carwash in Clive.
“I was happy because although I didn’t have the opportunity to study what I wanted, at least I was able to be around cars, the cars that I feel so passionate about,” he said. “I collected cars as a kid — small cars — Hot Wheels to be exact. Everything about cars was interesting to me. At least now I was cleaning them.”
He worked there for about three years and decided he wanted to learn more, so he applied for a job at a tire shop where he was hired as a technician. This was like going to automotive school for him because he had to study everything about cars.
Enrique would take papers home and studied. His dedication paid off, and he was promoted to crew chief after six months, then promoted to service coordinator four months after that. He has worked at the shop for four years now.
“I love my job,” Enrique said. “I can work with cars, and the people I work with are like family to me.”
Enrique was upfront with his former boss, who he calls “tío” (uncle), and let him know about his DACA status. His “tío” was very understanding, so when the time came for Enrique to renew his DACA status, the store manager reached out to the main boss who came to Enrique and said: “You are a good employee and we want to give you a gift, we will pay for your immigration fees ($495).”
Work was going well, he was appreciated and supported, yet something was hanging over Enrique’s head.
He became very worried after Donald Trump was elected president. He was increasingly concerned about what Trump would do to all DACA recipients. Would he end the program?
In 2017, the newly elected president ordered an end to the program, meaning more than 800,000 young immigrants would lose their educational and employment opportunities and they would not be protected against deportation.
Trump’s actions triggered several lawsuits filed against the termination of the program, and two federal appellate courts ruled against the administration. This ruling meant that previous DACA recipients would be allowed to renew their status. The Supreme Court agreed to review the legal challenges, and its decision is expected this spring.
“We Dreamers are nervous about what’s going to happen to us if it is decided not to continue with the program,” Enrique said. “What’s going to happen to us if we are sent back to our country, a country many of us don’t even remember? Everything that happens around immigration is important for us.”
In addition to the fear of deportation, Enrique and others face a new and growing fear, the fear of hatred toward Latinos.
He recalled traveling with his best friend across Iowa in the summer of 2018. They stopped at a gas station in Brooklyn. While at the station, he saw posters of Mollie Tibbets and he wondered what happened to her. A few days later, he heard she had been found dead, and a Mexican undocumented immigrant was the primary suspect of her disappearance and death.
“I remember how bad I felt for her and her family, but I also felt terrified because I was afraid for my community and how people would treat me thinking that all Latinos were killers,” Enrique said.
His best friend felt threatened by a man at a gas station who told him to go back to his country and said, “Your people are bad people.” He also recalled reading in the news about graffiti found on the south side of Des Moines that read: “Deport Illegals.”
As for his hopes for the future, Enrique hopes Sen. Bernie Sanders wins the Iowa caucuses and the presidential election because he thinks Sanders cares not only for the DACA recipients like him, but for all the undocumented people. His second choice for president is former Vice President Joe Biden, because he worked with President Barack Obama to put the DACA program in place.
In the end, Enrique wants others to know, “We are here to build a better future not only for us, but for the entire country. If they get rid of the DACA program, they will take everything away from us; they will separate us from our loved ones.”
By Claudia Thrane