An Undocumented Immigrant Evaluates the Tone of the Congressional Debate

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Maria Gabriela Pacheco, she's known as Gaby, is the director of the Bridge Project in Miami. It aims to help immigrants living here without papers to become US citizens. A few years ago, Gaby walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, DC. Her goal was to get Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would have legalized millions of undocumented immigrants, including Gaby. Now Gaby is back in DC, listening to Congress debate immigration once again. Gaby, you're 28, but you were just a kid in 1983 when your family moved to Miami from Ecuador. At what point growing up here did you realize that, I don't have papers, I don't have the legal papers required to be considered a US citizen?

Maria Gabriela Pacheco: Well, it was a huge moment of anxiety and I was in 8th grade when I kind of realized that I didn't have documents, and my family didn't have documents as well. And so for me what started happening is that because my desire and dream to go to college, I knew that there was going to be a barrier once I graduated from high school, I started taking as many classes as I could, and even though I was part of an honors program, I started taking college level classes and just living in school practically from 7:00 in the morning to sometime 8, 9 o'clock at night, just absorbing as much as I could because I felt that my life as a student would end once I turned 18 and once I graduated from high school.

Werman: Did you end up by going to college?

Pacheco: I was able to go to college and I think that's what drove me to make sure that I fought so that other people had the same opportunity, and more importantly my sisters, who, one of them wanted to be a nurse, and the other one wanted to be in the Air Force.

Werman: So what is your own status now?

Pacheco: Well, right now I'm waiting for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, I requested it last year and I've been waiting a little over six months for that so hopefully we call ourselves DACAmented, so hopefully I will be able to have this DACA pretty soon.

Werman: And explain what DACA would actually give you.

Pacheco: Well, DACA is a two-year program, it was announced last year on June 15th, 2012 by President Obama, that comes from the Department of Homeland Security that practically says that you're not deportable for two years and with that comes a work permit that would allow me to then get a driver's license and as well a social security number.

Werman: So you kind of have a stay of deportation for two years now.

Pacheco: Correct.

Werman: So you fought hard for the DREAM Act. Your well-publicized walk from Miami to DC was pretty notable. The DREAM Act didn't get passed. Three years later you're back in Washington watching the Senate debate on immigration up close. As someone who has a lot at stake in the debate, what's it like to be looking inside the political business of integration right now?

Pacheco: Well, it reassures me, this sentiment that I have in my heart, which is that I'm an American. And to me, sitting in a classroom, when I was in my AP Governments classes, I remember our teachers pushing and saying we needed to be civically engaged and that we needed to be part of the process, and that voting was so important, and so at 18 I remember seeing all my friends voting or registering to vote. And sitting in that room and watching the senators and being so up close to one, history in the making, and two, just how our democracy works, I felt an awe and I felt very humbled, and felt good to be in that room, felt good to be able to consider myself an American.

Werman: Are you hopeful about what's going to emerge from the current debate in Congress?

Pacheco: I'm extremely hopeful, one because the climate has really changed. I've been in this immigration fight for almost ten years and back in the day people were afraid to tell their names, people were afraid to do interviews, and now we vocally share our stories because we realize how important they are. And through our stories we've been able to gather so much support, and seeing the bipartisanship that is happening was a sign that both the Democrats and the Republicans really have a big stake in this and want to get this done.

Werman: Gaby Pacheco, an activist on immigration issues. She directs the Bridge Project in Miami, which aims to help undocumented immigrants become US citizens. Gaby, very good to meet you. Thank you for your time.

Pacheco: Thank you for having me.