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2 Sisters In Los Angeles Are DREAMers But Only 1 Is Covered By DACA


Congress has yet to come up with a compromise immigration bill, so the fate of the so-called DREAMers is still up in the air. We're going to introduce you now to two of them. They are sisters. One has protections under DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The other sister does not. From NPR's Code Switch team, here's Shereen Marisol Meraji.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Eighteen-year-old Abigail Gonzalez fits the high-achieving DREAMer stereotype. She's got straight A's, she's senior class president, and she really wants to go to Princeton. Abigail describes herself as a Dodgers fan who listens to K-pop.

ABIGAIL GONZALEZ: And I love to eat Italian, Korean. Like, I love trying different types of foods.

MERAJI: She'll also credit her oldest sister, Miriam Gonzalez Avila, for being...

GONZALEZ: My biggest inspiration. And she remembers - she's the only one who remembers Mexico.

MERAJI: Miriam was 6 years old and Abigail was 6 months old when their mom brought them to Los Angeles to reunite with their dad. Miriam's 24 now and the oldest of four. She describes herself as a hardworking planner. She was high school valedictorian, the first in the family to go to college, and she sees a lot of herself in her youngest sister.

MIRIAM GONZALEZ AVILA: And I always call her, like, my little prodigy. But she's done everything on her own.

MERAJI: She's being modest. Miriam went through a bunch of firsts that helped pave the way for her youngest sister, like being the first to know their legal status. She was in seventh grade. There was a flyer at school, and she can't remember exactly what for - some sort of after-school job thing - but to participate, you needed a Social Security number.

GONZALEZ AVILA: And I went home that day, and I told my mom like, hey, mom, can I have my Social Security number? And then she was like, you don't have one. And then I was like, well, let's go get one.

MERAJI: Her mom told her why it didn't work that way because Miriam was undocumented.

GONZALEZ AVILA: She just said, don't tell anybody. And I do remember that.

MERAJI: She didn't tell anybody until high school. She was determined to go to college and shared her secret with a high school guidance counselor, who told her about an undocumented student group at UCLA. She realized not only could she go to college, she could have a support network. Miriam applied to UCLA and got in, but the family couldn't afford it on her Dad's factory salary, and she couldn't work legally or apply for financial aid. Her plan - live at home and get scholarships. But after her second quarter...

GONZALEZ AVILA: I didn't get one of those scholarships that I was depending on, so I had to take time off from school, so yeah.

MERAJI: While Miriam was trying to figure out what to do, something big happened.


BARACK OBAMA: Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.

MERAJI: President Obama announced DACA. It was June 15, 2012. Miriam was with a bunch of her undocumented friends from UCLA who were graduating later that day.

GONZALEZ AVILA: You made me get emotional (laughter). Yeah, so it came, like, at a perfect time where, you know, they're getting ready to graduate, and now they have the opportunity to work.

MERAJI: And so did she. She got DACA, graduated from UCLA, and she's getting her master's while teaching middle school full time. With her teaching salary, she helps out her family a lot, like her youngest sister, Abigail. She helped her pay for her college application fees and took her on a cross-country trip to visit her dream school, Princeton. Here's Abigail again.

GONZALEZ: Just being on Princeton, I did feel like I really wanted to come here. Like, I was like, this could be it.

MERAJI: But Abigail doesn't have DACA. There's nothing protecting her from deportation. See, she wasn't 15 when DACA was announced, and you had to be at least 15 to apply. And when she turned 15, she was in high school, and she didn't think she needed a job until she graduated. She mostly thought of DACA as something that let you work. Deportation wasn't top of mind until Donald Trump became president. When Abigail finally realized she should really apply, a lawyer said, hold off; don't give the government all your information until the Trump administration decides what to do with DACA.

GONZALEZ: Like, I definitely regretted not applying early as soon as I turned 15, and then, like, it was already too late once we waited it out.


JEFF SESSIONS: I'm here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded.

MERAJI: On Tuesday, September 5 of last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the official announcement, and Abigail's older sister Miriam got ready to fight. She's a plaintiff in a case suing the Trump administration for ending DACA - Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California. And a district court judge ruled in that case that the federal government has to keep taking DACA renewals but doesn't have to accept new applications. It's a short-term win that's been appealed to the Supreme Court, and it won't help Miriam's sister Abigail, a DREAMer without DACA. Miriam so wishes she could go back and change that.

GONZALEZ AVILA: Like, I know that we don't talk about it because, you know, our family doesn't really talk about things, but, like, does she blame me? And, like, I wouldn't blame her for, like, blaming me, since, you know, we kind of, like, didn't do it when we had the opportunity to do so, you know?

MERAJI: So what do you hope happens?

GONZALEZ AVILA: I just hope that Congress acts.

MERAJI: Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shereen Marisol Meraji is the co-host and senior producer of NPR's Code Switch podcast. She didn't grow up listening to public radio in the back seat of her parent's car. She grew up in a Puerto Rican and Iranian home where no one spoke in hushed tones, and where the rhythms and cadences of life inspired her story pitches and storytelling style. She's an award-winning journalist and founding member of the pre-eminent podcast about race and identity in America, NPR's Code Switch. When she's not telling stories that help us better understand the people we share this planet with, she's dancing salsa, baking brownies or kicking around a soccer ball.