Skip to main content

Notebook Lifestyle

Faces of DACA

Liz Dong (Photos by Laura Finch)


Faces of DACA

Illegal immigrants brought as children hope for a chance to stay

As Congress and the White House debate changes to U.S. immigration policy, hundreds of thousands of DACA beneficiaries hope for a legislative extension of the Obama administration program that allowed them to stay and work legally in the country to which most were brought illegally as children. Here are a few:

Liz Dong was 10 when she arrived in the United States from China as a dependent on her mother’s legal work visa: She lived with her mother in the Chicago suburbs and attended Northwestern. In 2001, though, a lawyer forgot to attach her re-application paperwork to her mom’s. DACA allowed her to obtain a work permit, but it expires in September. Dong, now 28, last year wrote a column in Time headlined, “I am an evangelical Christian and an undocumented immigrant.” She says the order of the two IDs is crucial: “My identity in Christ is my primary identity.” Dong now works for the Evangelical Immigration Table.

Yuriana Aguilar

Yuriana Aguilar was 5 when her aunt drove her across the Mexican border, her parents in the trunk of a separate car. Aguilar pretended to be asleep in the back of the van while agents shined a flashlight in her face. The first time she walked into a research lab and saw a mouse heart beating outside of it’s body, Aguilar “fell in love with the heart”—and went on to earn a Ph.D. in cardiac electrophysiology. Rush University invited her to come from California to Chicago in 2016 to continue her research on understanding how hearts beat. Her work permit, obtained under DACA, expires in October.

Scheri Espinoza

Scheri Espinoza, 28, was born in Santiago, Chile, with spina bifida. She came to Chicago with her family at age 2 and grew up going to church, accepting Christ as her Savior at summer camp. Until DACA she relied on charities for her wheelchairs. Now—or until her current DACA permit expires—she can legally hold a job (with good insurance) at Walmart. Espinoza’s schooling has been stop-and-go because of finances, but now she’s only seven classes away from an associate’s degree in psychology from a suburban community college.

Abraham Arechiga

Abraham Arechiga, 19, co-owns four Mexican restaurants in the Chicago area, and another four in Indianapolis, with plans for even more expansion. Along with his brothers, he also started selling real estate last year, and they hope to flip two houses per month in 2018. Abraham has lived in the western suburbs since age 5 and recently received his green card. But one of the main reasons he loved DACA, he says, was that it allowed him to obtain credit. A lot of immigrants, he says, come here with the “American dream” and then get comfortable with the system, but his goal is to keep creating jobs.

Ruth Velazquez

At age 13 Ruth Velazquez and her family moved to Joliet, Ill., around Christmastime: They lived in an unfinished, one-room basement for a year. Most of the family members are legal citizens now, but she just missed the age cutoff, so that option is unavailable to her. Velazquez is now 27, and although she can’t apply for permanent status herself, she oversees 750 citizenship applications a year in her job with World Relief. The DACA executive order in 2012 allowed her to earn a four-year degree—the first in her family.


Juan—he wants to protect family members, and we agreed not to use his last name—came to the United States as an infant and has told his parents he resents being taken away from their close-knit extended family in Mexico. Juan now feels a parallel with Joseph in Egypt, though, and often repeats a personal mission statement: “to teach, preach, and spread the gospel here, near, and far.” He’s interning at a church while studying at a local community college and dreams of earning an M.Div. from Trinity University.

Mayra Serna

Mayra Serna, now 30, was 14 when she crossed. She remembers clutching her 3-year-old brother and whispering to him not to speak to the border agents. With her high-school degree, Mayra has worked at a number of fast food places and now manages one of the Arechiga family’s restaurant locations. Before DACA, she says, she never dreamed of having something like a driver’s license, so each two-year permit renewal feels like a chance to say, “Let’s see what I can do in two years.” Mayra and her boyfriend are expecting their first baby in June or July; her permit expires next year.

This story has been updated to clarify the description of DACA beneficiaries’ legal status.


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sun, 03/04/2018 01:36 am

    The definition of DACA was created/promoted by Obama to define a class of illegal alien that most Americans would side with so they could be used to get citizenship and enable Democrats to dominate politically.  Not only that, but the goal is to wear Americans down to ultimately give citizenship to all illegal aliens giving Democrats a critical edge over elections that have regularly been razer blade thin. I am somewhat torn on the DACA issue because Christian charity would have them stay, yet ultimately I know this is about Democrats seizing power and imposing their immorality on all the nation. This will include mass abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism, other sexual immorality, vast corruption of  government, removal of religious liberties, and ultimately the imprisonment of faithful believers.  For this reason, I have a lackluster support of DACA and realize our country has every right to expel these people from our country, but grace may do otherwise.  Grace too looks at the impacts that will result such as killing of millions of more babies and all the other sins that will result.  I struggle with this one! 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 03/04/2018 08:13 pm

    The answer is simple: do what is right, and let God take care of the rest.

    Note that I said simple, not easy. :)

    Posted: Fri, 03/02/2018 10:01 am

    The vast majority of DACA-defined people are hard working, dedicated would-be Americans. I know many personally myself. They deserve the same chance my grandparents had when they came to the US from Spain in 1927. Give them a path to become officially who they already are in reality...


  • CA
    Posted: Fri, 03/02/2018 11:24 am

    First - this is a nice snapshot of the DACA "kids" (they are really adults now so kids is a poor choice of words).  But it does not cover up the fact that they are here illegally. I support giving them some type of ability to stay here legally but what I want in exchange is border security and laws that prohibit this situation from happening in the future.  That should include an end ot chain migration. And we must remember that the entire DACA program was and is unconstitutional.  An illegal program President Trump inherited.  He is right to throw the ball to Congress which is where it should have been in the first place.  

    The sad part of this story is the President made a very, very generous offer but wanted (I believe properly) border secuirty and some much needed changes in our immigration system in return.  The Democrats in the Senate rejected this offer.  They are playing politics with the DACA "kids" and letting them be sacrifices on the alter of the 2018 mid-term elections.  

    I still hope the DACA situation can be fixed for these young people (legal status but I do not favor instant citizenship) but with border security and the much needed changes in our system.  But I also hope that all of those advocating so hard for the DACA kids will recognize that one party and the President wants to help them and the other party is only using them to score political points at the ballot box.  

  • PJG
    Posted: Sat, 03/03/2018 01:42 pm

    Certainly there are great examples of people in the DACA program.  The problem is that is not the whole story and the people highlighted here probably are not representative of the whole.  The big problem for the church is that we are eager to embrace those who came in illigally, but we do so little to help them transition to the normal immigration path. Further, we in the church assume the government should turn a blind eye to the law rather than permanently fix the laws.  This is wrong and very dangerous.  If we primarily offer amnesty as a government, we are creating a permanent second class of people in the US.  More importantly, every new citizen must renounce all ties to thier past nation or any other past organization contrary to the Constititution and swear allegiance to the Constitution.  DACA recipients must do the same.  If there is no differentiation between citizen and non-citizen.  If there is no differentiation between people who come through the legal process and those who do not, then we have no basis for our nation, no way to determine who should vote, or why any corporation or individual should pay taxes or receive benefits.  Why not have the foriegn nationals here on student Visa's or diplomants or tourists vote in elections if citizenship doesn't matter.  That is the challenge for our government.  We as a church need to support good laws and good government.  If the law is unjust, change the law but don't make reasons for the government officials to ignore it. 

  • Angie Brennan
    Posted: Sun, 03/04/2018 06:00 pm

    I'm a little surprised to see a "puff-piece" like this in World. As a matter of Christian ethics, I find very troubling the implication of this article that because some of these people are brothers and sisters in Christ, they should be above the law. In fact, I would think that the Bible's admonitions to be subject to the governing authorities might cause them to exit voluntarily. Onesimus, with Paul's encouragement, returned to Philemon to set things right even though he was useful to Paul.

    The question is not whether we would approve of these folks as neighbors or fellow-parishioners. The question is whether our government should provide them benefits that are denied to the law-abiding in other countries because of immigration laws. These illegal entrants have already obtained considerable benefits from their time in our country, and we have no reason to apologize for not providing additional benefits. They should return to their country of origin and, if they desire to live here, should apply to return lawfully. Our desire for generosity and mercy is better applied to welcoming legal immigrants than turning a blind eye to illegal entry--especially because of the message it would send--that if you can get in illegally and stay in long enough, you (or your children) can eventually get a "free pass." While it is sad that they should have to exit, that is the consequence of their parents' illegal actions and this course of action would seem to be the only just way of righting the wrong that their parents (and they) have inflicted on those who play by the rules. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 03/04/2018 09:04 pm

    Terry, your post disturbs me somewhat, although you clearly are trying to approach the matter Biblically.

    The people profiled above were 10, 5, 2, 5, 13, an infant, and 14 when they came.  One may have come over on her own with her younger brother in tow, but either the profile neglected to mention other family who may have accompanied her, or she faced desperate circumstances in her country of origin. 14 year olds do not cross the border on a whim.  What right do we have before God to boot them out with no consideration as to whether they are able to survive in countries that they hardly know? What right do we have before God to hold them responsible for their elders' sins?

    The law is a cruel taskmaster. God gives us what we give to others.  It seems to me in this case that mercy is required.

  •  JEFF's picture
    Posted: Fri, 03/16/2018 06:40 am

    Will World run a comparable article about Dreamers who have ruined lives through murder, rape, drugs and gang activity? There is a reason Lady Justice is blindfolded. Twisting the law by emotional appeals is quite wrong no matter which point of view is being advocated.