Jared Aguila is a dreamer. He’ll be the first in his family to graduate from college, with a bachelor’s from Cal State Los Angeles, a springboard for his desired career in the tech industry. He’s also a Dreamer, one of hundreds of thousands of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a group that found some peace last week when the U.S. Supreme Court denied President Trump’s attempt to repeal the program.
Aguila knows he isn’t out of the woods yet, with DACA still being vulnerable, but the court’s decision was a “sigh of relief” for him.
Launched by then President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA shields its recipients from deportation and grants them the ability to work in the U.S. legally. When the program was announced, Aguila admitted he did not pay much attention to the news at the time but realized the significance of DACA based on his mother’s reaction.
“I knew it was something big when my mom--she started crying,” he said.
Childhood Border Crossing
Aguila left Mexico, his country of birth, at three-years-old, an age so young he hardly remembers his journey across the border. By the time he embarked on the trip, both of his parents had already left for the U.S. Aguila said he doesn’t recall who exactly took him but knows it was someone trusted by his family.
Growing up in the U.S. presented its own challenges for Aguila.
“In the beginning, it was kind of difficult when it came to school. Having to be the first person in my family to study here, I had to learn everything on my own,” said the South El Monte resident. “Other people could easily count on their parents to help them with homework… I had to figure out stuff on my own.”
He added that sometimes a teacher could help in Spanish but often was on his own to navigate his education, including learning English, another difficulty he faced.
Determined to Graduate
Today, as a fifth-year industrial technology major, he’ll be the first in his family that will graduate from university. His father enrolled in college prior but did not have the financial means to continue. The 22-year-old said he feels “a bit of pressure” but remains determined to complete his education “after everything my parents have done.”
As a DACA recipient, Aguila qualified for financial aid, allowing him to go straight to his preference of a four-year university instead of community college. Among other perks, he got a social security number, permitting him to go on certain trips he originally missed out on while still in grade school, and becoming eligible to work legally.
The DACA program was abruptly thrown in the air when the Trump administration, in 2017, announced its intention to repeal it. The reaction from his family, Aguila said, was one of anger and concern. The court system then intervened and DACA’s fate remained in purgatory for three years.
Anxious about the Future
While relieved by the judicial intervention, Aguila was also anxious.
“It was always like, what do we have to do? Would I have to go back to hiding? What about my financial aid? And what does this mean for my future?” he asked rhetorically. “Am I going to be able to get a job? Do I have to go back to Mexico? I've already given my information; does it mean that if they wanted to, they could come deport me? Always there was unease almost every time that he would come on TV,” he said referring to Trump, “because we just wanted to see what he was going to do next.”
Some of that anxiety was eased last week when the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration tried to repeal DACA in a faulty manner, allowing the program to remain in place for the time being. Trump can attempt to repeal DACA again with a different justification that the court may find appropriate.
Experts and members of the media say it is unlikely that he will be able to accomplish that before the November election. In the meantime, Aguila’s final fate is in limbo.
While born in Mexico, America is his home.
“As much as I want to, I can't really remember anything specific about Mexico,” he said. “I would consider this my home because this is where I've been most of my life. [This is] where I graduated high school, where I first found out I was going to college, where I got my first car, where I was able to basically grow up with friends. And even though I don't have that much family here, I'm still able to make close relationships with other people.”
Aguila’s dream is to graduate and work for a major or startup tech company. He also hopes to embark on a path to citizenship, buy a house and start a family someday.
Richard Tzul and Denae Ayala are recent graduates of the journalism program at Cal State L.A.