Like many high school seniors, Indira Marquez Robles thinks a lot about her future. She knows what college she wants to go to (Bryn Mawr) and what she wants to be when she grows up (an immigration attorney) but she also doesn’t know if she’ll be at risk for deportation in the next six months.
Marquez Robles is a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that has shielded over 700,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, allowed them to get work permits and Social Security numbers, travel abroad and obtain a driver’s license.
But on Sept. 5, the Trump Administration rescinded that program and gave some DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, until Oct. 5 to apply to have their documents renewed. In order to reapply, a recipients’ work permit and deferral has to expire by March 5, 2018. Marquez Robles missed that cutoff by 16 days.
Because the 17-year-old Houstonian’s DACA will expire on March 21, 2018, she doesn’t have any option but to wait and see if Congress passes legislation that would grant her some form of legal status. She could still attend college, but without some form of legal protection she will live under fear of being deported by an administration that has made it clear that all undocumented immigrants are at risk.
“Mentally and emotionally, I’m just going through the stages of accepting that there’s no like, ‘Here’s what you can do, you can go renew,” the Houston resident told TIME.
For most of her young life, Marquez Robles thought the fact that she was born in Mexico was innocuous. In fact, she thought it made her kind of special.
“While my sisters say that they were born at Ben Taub [Hospital] down near the medical center, I could say that I was born in a beach town in Mexico,” she says.
She’d spent nearly her entire life in the U.S., having been brought to the country when she was just six months old, and never once thought of herself as anything other than an American. But when she was 14, eager to travel to France on a school trip, her parents broke the news. Unlike her siblings, she wasn’t an American citizen. She would not be able to go.
“I was so committed to learning French. I thought being able apply it in France would have been monumental,” she says. “To have that taken away from you … you just can’t even understand.”
At the time, Marquez Robles says neither she nor her parents knew about DACA. They had heard about the Dream Act, but the issue of status and immigration was not something they talked about regularly as a family. But on a trip to the Mexican consulate in an effort to secure a passport, Marquez Robles encountered an organizer with United We Dream who told her about how the program could shield her from deportation, allow her to work and have access to other opportunities. At 14, she was too young to apply for DACA, but when the time came a year later, the same person she’d met at the consulate helped her file her application.
She cried when her Social Security card came in the mail, overwhelmed by the doors that had opened for her as a result. A week later when her work permit came, however, her parents hid it from her and had it baked into a celebratory cake — she says a small indent from where her knife struck the card is still visible today. Papers in hand, she says the first thing she did was start looking for jobs to apply for.
“Whenever they asked for my Social Security number, that feeling of having one to give them was really assuring,” she says. She also started looking into getting her driver’s license and thought about finally being able to take that trip to France. She got more active with United We Dream, attending marches and protests, traveling with the organization on 10 separate occasions.
“The fear dissipated. I knew that there were programs and opportunities for people like me,” she says. More than anything, she says, she was looking forward to applying for DACA again: “That first time I got DACA, I thought, the next time I’m able to apply it’s going to be even greater.”
That time now will never come. DACA is no longer an option for Marquez Robles and many of the over 200,000 other recipients whose documents expire in 2018. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 321,920 people will also lose DACA protections in 2019. In Congress, there is bipartisan support for the legislative solution to DACA, though there are some fissures among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Marquez Robles recognizes that if there is no legislative fix in six months, she could lose her status, but for now, she is staying focused. School and life obligations keep her pretty busy, anyway. The oldest of seven, she’s responsible for getting herself and two of her younger sisters to school everyday — about an hour away from their home — and making sure they get home safely.
At school, where she says she has a weighted grade-point-average of 3.7, she juggles three Advanced Placement courses — in Statistics, Biology, and Government— facilitates the TED Ed Club and serves on the junior varsity debate team. To make money to save up for college, she picks up hours at a tea shop. In her free time, she likes to document her life through photography and film and volunteer with the immigrant rights organization, United We Dream.
“I’m not going to let this deter my desire to attend college and apply for scholarships,” she says. “If anything it’s driving me to apply for more.”