NEW YORK, NY – Alejandra Salas doesn’t have any memories of Mexico. Her mother crossed the Mexican border bringing Salas, at the time 1, with her.
Salas grew up thinking she was American until she was in her teens. Then she tried to get a job.
“I wanted to work. I thought I was equal or the same as other students,” Salas, now 22, said. “They made fun of me, like, ‘You are an illegal, you should go back to Mexico and see if you can get a job there.’”
Salas qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program President Barack Obama passed in August 2012 stopping the deportation of some immigrants who came to the United States as children, and giving them a chance to work, study and reside lawfully in the country.
Salas was unemployed, and on her husband’s salary it was hard to pay for the $465 application fee. So DACA didn’t even cross her mind until she learned about the NYC DREAMer Loan Fund, where Salas, and more than 50 other Dreamers, took out a loan to pay the application fee.
The fund is a partnership between New Economy Project, an advocacy center for financial equality, two community credit unions, and other organizations, like the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees and the New York Immigration Coalition. The Dreamers pay a $20 loan process fee and walk out with a check for the application. They make 12 payments of $38.75, keep the credit union account, and when they finish the payments, they receive a $25 saving bonus.
Although Dreamers don’t need to have credit to apply for the fund, they need to prove they have some sort of income. If the Dreamer doesn’t have a job, a friend or family member can apply for them.
“One thing we hope to get out of this, is a model for other groups in the country for Deferred Action,” said Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project and one of the designers of the loan program. “And if immigration reform does happen, there’s going to be a lot of financial need.”
Dreamers cannot apply for the loan until they have the paperwork ready. So other organizations help the Dreamers complete it.
At first, Caleb Mortera, 23, originally from Mexico, was skeptical about DACA, fearing the application would lead to his deportation. But after six months and much insistence from his parents, he decided to apply, but was worried about the fee. Mortera works as a graphic designer making $9.50 per hour.
He found the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights online. There, paralegals helped him put the paperwork together for free and then directed him to the loan fund program. He sent his application in February.
“It’s really good. I even started promoting the program,” he said.
Salas and Mortera are still waiting for the results of their application, but they already have plans for their social security and documentation.
Both of them plan to go to college. Mortera wants be a paramedic and Salas a nurse. While Mortera dreams of getting his parents to stop working, Salas wants to make sure her two sons and three brothers, all born in the United States, finish school and go to college.
“I want to do it for them, for my kids,” Salas said. “I don’t want them to finish high school and say, ‘Well, you didn’t go then I’m done.’ I want them to go to college.”