Felipe Coronado was 12 years old when he came to the United States for the final time. A native of Cancun, he crossed the border easily, without the dramatics of trudging through a river, and made his way to Oklahoma.
“They told me it was a vacation to see my brother,” he said in an interview with The Frontier. “I didn’t know, I just came.”
Nearly two decades later, Coronado owns his own marketing business. He and his wife, an Oklahoma native, recently bought a home in Broken Arrow.
Thanks to DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival), an Obama-era program which allows some children who entered the country illegally to stay as long as they meet certain criteria, Coronado has been able to grow his business and his personal life, all while paying taxes and being a good citizen.
But like many Dreamers – the term used for those who have gone through the DACA program – his future now hangs in the balance. Despite being married to a legal citizen, Coronado could face deportation if the DACA program ends, which President Donald Trump has signaled may happen imminently.
While running for election, Trump teased the possibility of doing away with DACA. But after taking office he appeared to soften on the issue, telling Dreamers they had nothing to worry about.
But while White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said Thursday the program was “under review,” Fox News reported that Trump planned to cancel the program as early as Friday. If that happens, it’s likely Dreamers would be able to stay through their current term (the program grants a two-year renewable stay).
After that, it’s unknown.
“I would have to go back and then find another legal way to come over,” Coronado said. “I really don’t know what I’d do.”
Tulsa Dreamers react
Janeth Pallares doesn’t remember much of her childhood in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her father started building the family a house, but then left before it was finished.
“So we had a big bathroom, a bedroom, and a kitchen,” she said. “But that was it.”
Her mother worked at night and needed to sleep during the day. With only one room, Pallares was left to fend for herself while her mother slept.
“I really don’t remember what I did,” she said from a conference room at Saint Francis Xavier Church in Tulsa, where she works as a secretary. “I just remember running around with friends.”
When she was 7 years old, her grandfather, who had become a U.S. citizen, asked her if she wanted to move to Duncan, Okla., with him.
She said yes.
Unable to speak English, she learned what she could from her elementary school classmates. During the summers, she would stay with friends while her grandfather would travel to Mexico. When he returned each fall, they would go renew the visa paperwork that allowed her to stay in the United States.
One fall, he didn’t come back.
“Then I found out he died,” Pallares said. “I didn’t know what to do. A family took me in, and took care of me. I wanted them to adopt me, but we were told I had to be 18 before I could let them do that. Then I turned 18 and found out that I was too old to be adopted.”
With dreams of being a police officer, Pallares studied criminal justice at Saint Gregory’s University in Shawnee. During her senior year, she went through the DACA program.
“It was just a weight off my mind, to know I had a two-year window now,” she said.
After graduation, Pallares moved to Tulsa. Knowing that the Tulsa Police Department had a shortage of Hispanic officers, she applied to go through the police academy.
“They didn’t even question me,” she said. “It wasn’t until I gave them my paperwork that they reviewed it and said, ‘Wait, you can’t join until you’re a citizen.’
“The one thing I want to be, I can’t be. It’s frustrating.”
For now, Pallares works at the church and drives for Uber in her spare time. She considers the driving to be good practice for a future she hopes leads to her being a police officer.
“I know in the academy they really drill you on locations and address, they don’t want you looking at Google Maps,” she said. “So now it’s kind of like I’m studying while I’m driving.”
Pallares just received her DACA renewal, so even if the program ends, she has at least two years left before her time here is up. But at that point, she would be returning home with few guarantees.
“I know I have a piece of property back home my dad has given to me, it supposedly has a house on it,” she said. “I have aunts and uncles and family there that I don’t really remember.
For Coronado, the future would be similarly uncertain.
“I don’t really know my family,” he said. He refers to the family he lived with in Oklahoma as his parents. “I just don’t get it. I’m here, I’m doing good, I’m staying out of trouble, I’m paying taxes. I’m contributing. Why would they want me to leave?”
When he was only 2 years old, Jordan Mazariegos moved to Anaheim, Calif., with his mother. In 1996, his family moved to Tulsa.
Now, a year away from graduating from Oklahoma State University’s Tulsa campus with a degree in accounting, he faces the potential of being sent back to a place that never really was his home.
“There’s some anxiety, but quite frankly that’s what I’ve lived with all my life,” Mazariegos said.
Like thousands of other undocumented immigrants who came to Oklahoma as children, he first went through the DACA process shortly after it began in 2012. For many years, he felt confined to the shadows.
“When you talk about patriotism, and loving your country, I think of that quote that says, ‘Think not of what your country can do for you, think about what you can do for your country,’” he said. “I’m working hard, and learning these skills. I have a full-time job lined up as soon as I graduate. I feel like I’m making America great, and you want to send me to another country, to make it great?
“It doesn’t make sense.”
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, given his accounting background, that Mazariegos buries himself in the numbers. He begins to recite a series of numbers.
“There have been 11,143 DACA applications and renewals accepted in Oklahoma,” he said. “In less than four years, nationwide, there were 1,541,960 applications and renewals filled out. Do you know how much the application fee is? It was $465, then last year they upped it to $495 dollars just to apply.
“That’s almost $700 million raised just through DACA applications, nevermind how much money DACA recipients pay in taxes through work and into economies through purchases. DACA has allowed us to succeed, and if we succeed, everyone succeeds.”