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DACA changed her life and helped her feel like she belonged

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Maria Moreno of Willmar holds her son, Davian, 4, in the dining room of their home in Willmar. She came to this country from Honduras when she was 10, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has allowed her to build a better, more secure life for her and her son. Photo / Linda Vanderwerf2 / 2

WILLMAR — They're called Dreamers because "we have dreams," said Maria Moreno.

"When we came to this country, it wasn't our fault we came here," she said, "but we dream of having a good future, a better life; this is our home now."

For Moreno, 21, of Willmar, brought to the United States from Honduras at the age of 10, President Barack Obama's executive action creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program changed her life. The term Dreamer comes from a previous proposal law called the DREAM Act.

DACA allowed undocumented young immigrants brought to the country as children to bring their lives out of the shadows.

With DACA they could obtain documents that allow them to work, go to college, get driver's licenses and buy homes.

"It gave us a chance to be who we wanted to be," Moreno said recently, sitting at the dining room table in her apartment.

President Donald Trump has decided to end the program, but he delayed it until March to give Congress time to put DACA protections into law. The program's future remains uncertain.

Some recipients have lived in this country since before they were 1 year old and have never known another country. Moreno, 21, was brought to the United States at the age of 10 and doesn't remember much about her native country anymore.

"To me, Minnesota is my home now," she said.

Some friends and family members asked why she wanted to tell her story and allow her name to be used.

"It's already on the record," she said with a smile. In applying for DACA, "You have to tell your whole story. They already know it all."

Applicants describe how they came to the country, list their family members and undergo criminal background checks. They pay about $500 every two years to maintain their status.

DACA "brought a lot of happiness to my life," Moreno said. It allowed her to get a driver's license, buy insurance and rent her own place. As a younger teen, she did babysitting and other jobs for cash.

"The day I got DACA, the first thing I did was go apply (for jobs)," she said. "I wanted something where I'd get paid more." She was 16 then.

She now works full-time in the laboratory of Select Genetics in Pennock, preparing turkey semen for artificial insemination.

It's a good job, and she likes it, she said. It pays her enough that she and her 4-year-old son can rent their own home, and she supports them without any public assistance. Before, they lived with family.

Moreno is working on getting her GED by taking night classes. She didn't finish high school after she had her son, she said, but one of her biggest goals is to get her diploma.

Many DACA recipients work and go to school, she said. "You get tired, but that's what you have to do to have a better life."

As if being a working single mother and a student weren't stressful enough, she now has the added burden of feeling like she's on a roller coaster waiting to see what happens with DACA.

She monitors the news and gets updates on her phone.

"I worked to have all this," she said, gesturing around her sun-filled apartment. "I have made (Willmar) my home. ... Imagine having all your stuff and the next day; you have nothing."

The thought of being deported scares her, she said. The country of her birth is a very dangerous place. She also worries about her son, a U.S. citizen who could end up in Honduras with her.

"I don't know what life I would have (in Honduras), but I think about it," she said.

Moreno said she knows many people in the Willmar area who are on DACA. "A lot of us are working full time," she said, and many are going to school.

"People from all over the planet, since hundreds of years ago, have been moving around to make a better life," she said. "All of us are from somewhere."

If DACA ends without anything to replace it, she would "lose everything," she said. "I would lose my permission to be here."

She would lose her ID and the chance to go to college after she gets her GED. She would no longer have the right to drive, but she needs to drive to go to work and take her son to preschool.

"It worries me a lot," she said. "I have a little one; I have to support him."

In the Willmar area, lots of jobs could be empty, and schools and colleges could lose many students, she said.

"I hope Congress helps us out with a better decision," Moreno said. "I think it would be good for the United States, too."

Moreno said she was grateful to her parents for bringing her to this country. And she is also grateful to a former teacher and his wife who have become mentors in her life.

"I am so thankful for the United States of America," she said. "It's a place where people from all over the world came for a better life."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340