Immigration in Tuscaloosa: Experiences of a DACA Student

By Anaya Truss-Williams

When Maggie’s parents immigrated from Mexico to the United States with their two young children, they could not imagine the obstacles their children would face. They had one thing in mind – giving their children better lives in a safe environment and healthy economy, away from drugs and violence. (Due to the sensitive nature of the story, Maggie’s last name was withheld.)

“My mother moved here, and my father followed her, and they went back and had me and my brother,” said Maggie. “Then they decided to come to America and stay.”

“Then they decided to come to America and stay.”

Her family members came to the United States with only $36. They settled in Tuscaloosa when she was just two years old because it was “cheap.”

Maggie is protected by the Obama-era policy – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The former Hillcrest High School student dedicated her time to the band and school theater. This fall she will attend Shelton State Community College.

While applying for college, Maggie encountered an obstacle in preparing for college. She is unable to apply for many scholarships, as well as health care insurance, because of her residency status.

Alabama enforces an anti-immigration bill (HB 56). Former Gov. George Bentley signed the bill into law in 2011. The law is described as “unconstitutional” by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) due to its restrictive nature. This law makes it illegal for anyone to knowingly drive an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job, enroll their children in public school, as well as other activities that may be considered routine for Americans.

“HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant law in the nation, was a blight upon the history of Alabama laws,” said Lucia Hermo, public advocacy director for the ACLU. “This law, along with its implementation, made many immigrant families afraid to go to school or work, without being apprehended by the police and then handed over to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. Parents would leave for work in the morning, not knowing whether or not they would see their children that day. Children would go to school wondering if they would come home to an empty house.”   

Vladimir Diaz, community relations Southeastern regional director for ICE, declined to comment on the nature of immigration and how ICE perceives immigrants who come to the United States to increase their standards of living.

This silence speaks volumes regarding ICE’s standpoint on the treatment of immigrants and their motives.

“Our society needs to stop seeing immigrants as an ‘other’ or a ‘them’ and realize that immigrants are people who are deeply ingrained in our society. They are our neighbors, our family and our friends,” said Hermo. “We need a fix to our broken immigration system that prioritizes the humanity of people.”

According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants represent about 4 percent of Alabama’s total population. Of immigrants 39 percent are undocumented and 32 percent are from Mexico.

“We don’t have the opportunity to do stuff [as much as others] even though it was not our choice [to come here]. I want people to be more aware of what’s going on and not to be ignorant,” said Maggie, “They make us sound like creatures. We are people. We come here for a better life. We work for any job we can get. It hurts that people blame us and [say] we stole jobs, when we very well worked just as hard as them to get jobs.”

Although many people think immigrants take jobs Americans should have, immigrant-led  households in Alabama paid $719.7 million in federal taxes and $252.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014, according to statistics by the American Immigration Council.

As a young adult Maggie was often told “go back to your country.” Her response? “I know no other.”

Growing up, Maggie felt discriminated against by teachers who treated her as if she could not keep up with her lessons. However, Maggie felt that her teachers were unsure she could fully understand their lessons, despite English being her first language.

“I know they didn’t mean to offend me or anything like that,” said Maggie, “Their first expectation of me is that I don’t speak English […] but I proved them wrong.”

Maggie poses inside of a local Starbucks.