Jose Rodriguez was just 13 years old when his family embarked on a journey from Guadalajara, Mexico to the United States in 2003. It took Rodriguez, his parents and his two younger brothers six hours on foot to cross the Sonoran desert and arrive on U.S soil. The family had attempted to cross twice before. But they were caught by immigration the first time and sent back to Mexico.
They were successful in crossing the second time. It was difficult, especially since they had no water. “We would rest for a couple hours and then keep walking,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes if we were lucky, we found water.”
Now, it’s 17 years later. Rodriguez — whom SFMN has given a pseudonym to protect his identity — is a senior at Florida International University. He is one of the thousands of beneficiaries of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was started by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Despite his immigration status, in 2020 Rodriguez started working for the Joe Biden presidential campaign, even though as a so-called “Dreamer” (named for the never-passed DREAM Act) he can’t cast a ballot. His job consists of calling people and encouraging them to go out and vote for the former Vice President. He took the job in part because of his dislike for the policies of President Donald Trump. “Trump is using DACA as a bargaining chip,” Rodriguez said. “I am tired of it.”
When the family crossed the Sonoran desert that day in 2003, Rodriguez understood they were moving, but didn’t really comprehend how this would affect his life. His parents, like many other immigrants, decided to move for better opportunities. Rodriguez describes the first few years in America as tough because of the language barrier. He had no friends and often missed Mexico.
When they arrived, they lived in Orlando and then, in 2018, moved to Miami. He attended Mount Dora Middle School in Central Florida, where he struggled with academics. He then moved onto Mount Dora High School. He slowly learned English. “Things started to turn around then,” he said. “I did better.”
But he remained afraid there was no path for citizenship. In 2012 DACA gave immigrant youth temporary protection from deportation. It also allowed Rodriguez to work, pay taxes, attend school and get a driver’s license. In Florida alone, there were 25,090 DACA recipients in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.
In 2016 Rodriguez took a job with the Farmworker Association of Florida, a nonprofit that advocates for agricultural workers. His duties included coordinating a community garden that provides fresh foods for immigrant communities.
Rodriguez has worked with multiple organizations like Mi Familia Vota, which focuses on promoting social and economic justice. They host citizenship workshops, voter registration, and voter participation events. He also worked with The Love Vote which is a platform where people who can’t vote share their stories and encourage others to vote. As well as the Florida Immigrant Coalition, whose mission is to amplify the power of immigrant communities by defending and protecting basic human rights.
In the 2016 election, he registered people to vote in Florida. Rodriguez says, “I feel like older people are more likely to vote compared to young people. I want young people to vote,” Rodriguez wishes more than ever to be able to vote but in the meantime, he is happy he can encourage others to do so.
The Trump Administration has continuously tried to end DACA. The Supreme Court recently blocked the Trump Administration from terminating the program, stating that the President can end the program but that he had tried to do so in a capricious manner that violated the Administrative Procedure Act. While Trump did not get his way with ending the program, he has reduced the length of DACA protections from two years to one year and is refusing to accept initial applications.
Rodriguez does not see the Trump administration doing anything positive for DACA recipients. “Trump has tried everything to make our situation harder, and now he says he wants to help but that is just because elections are coming up,” Rodriguez said. He feels like his life is being played with. “One day they want to kick us out, the next they say they want to help,” he said, adding that he can’t picture going back to Mexico as he considers Miami his home now.
Rodriguez enrolled at Florida International University in 2018 and decided to major in nutrition and dietetics. “I saw what the farmworkers and low-income communities go through,” he said. “This shouldn’t be taken lightly, and we should protect farmworkers from dangerous conditions.”
He would also like to see government-funded programs that promote balanced diets and active lifestyles.
The opportunity to work for Joe Biden came in 2020, when he was working at a temporary voting registration center. The place was closing and Rodriguez was offered work with the Biden campaign. The money didn’t matter to Rodriguez as much as the impact he hoped to make on the campaign. He’s optimistic that Biden will finally come up with a permanent solution to DACA, who has committed to restoring the DACA program and to exploring “all legal options to protect their families from inhumane separation.”
Rodriguez said Biden “not only wants to help DACA, but he wants to pass immigration legislation.” He is hopeful that it will calm the tension that has roiled the nation for the last four years.
Trump has also expressed a desire to find a solution for DACA. In an interview with Telemundo on July 10, he said he would sign an executive order that would include a path to citizenship for “Dreamers.” But he never did so. Rodriguez believes this has to do with the upcoming election.
“Look how much time has passed, and still nothing has happened,” Rodriguez said.
Some day Rodriguez hopes to work with the U.S Food and Drug Administration or the United States Department Of Agriculture. But in order to do that, he must become a U.S citizen. Rodriguez remains hopeful because he believes “Americans sympathize more with DACA.”