Ingrid Vaca is out to tell her story of what it’s like to be an undocumented mother living in the United States, because she believes it is the best way to build support for immigration reform.
“We need to put our voices out there so that people can hear us and see that we’re not all bad people,” Vaca told VOXXI. “We are hardworking people, and we have children who’ve grown up here and are contributing a lot to our society.”
Vaca has been telling her story in a big way. She recently appeared in a short video released this week by Define American, a campaign launched two years ago by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who revealed his undocumented status in an article published June 2011 in The New York Times Magazine.
The video, directed by Vargas, features a diverse group of undocumented immigrants, speaking about the meaning of being an American and pledging allegiance to the American flag. In the video, Vaca says:
“Pledging allegiance means I am a part of America.”
“This is a woman who is a housekeeper, and guess what? She is a part of America,” Vargas told VOXXI about Vaca, adding that he felt it was important to include older people, not just Dreamers, in the video to show the diversity in the immigrant rights movement.
‘I consider myself an American’
Vaca’s story begins with her deciding to leave Bolivia 13 years ago soon after she divorced the father of her two sons. She had two jobs there, including one as a certified physical education teacher, but she said she was still not making enough money to support her sons.
Seeking better opportunities, she decided to leave Bolivia and bring her sons to live in Virginia. They used visas to enter the U.S. and stayed in the country after the visas expired.
Once in Virginia, Vaca began cleaning houses to make a living. She said she has done everything an American should do, including learn English and pay taxes.
“I consider myself an American,” Vaca told VOXXI. “Like all Americans, I’ve been paying taxes ever since I got here. I’ve grown accustomed to this country and its people, and I’ve been trying to improve my English.”
“Obviously my country will always be in my heart,” she added. “But I am living in a place that has taken me in and where my kids are growing and where I feel like an American citizen.”
However, Vaca again ran into financial trouble when her sons graduated high school, and she couldn’t afford to pay the out-of-state tuition costs so that they could go to college. Virginia’s tuition policies forbid undocumented students from paying in-state tuition rates at any of the state’s public colleges and universities.
“My sons, they want to study,” she told VOXXI. “I work, but I don’t make enough money to send them to school.”
Vaca’s sons are Diego Mariaca, 18, and Gustavo Mariaca, 20. They are both Dreamers who were approved for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows them to stay and work in the U.S.
What Vaca wants from immigration reform
Though Vaca said she is thankful for DACA, she said a better solution would be comprehensive immigration reform. In the last few years, she has been advocating for reform through various groups, including CASA de Maryland and Dreamers’ Moms Virginia.
When asked what she wants in an immigration reform, Vaca told VOXXI:
“What we are asking for the most right now is for an end to deportations and to have some sort of documentation that will allow us to go back to our countries to visit our families. Time is passing by and our family members are dying, and we can’t go to their funerals.”
Furthermore, she wants an immigration reform that will allow her to do something as simple as take a vacation.
“During the 13 years that I’ve been living here, I’ve never taken a vacation, because I’m scared to travel sometimes,” she said. “Aside from that, not being able to have the necessary documents prevents me from being able to get a good job that allows me to save money and take a vacation.”
Two new surveys released Thursday by the Pew Research Center show Hispanics and Asians share the same views as Vaca when it comes to immigration reform. The surveys show that a strong majority of Hispanics and Asian Americans believe that being able to live and work in the U.S. legally without the threat of deportation is more important for undocumented immigrants than a path to citizenship.
In June, the Senate approved an immigration reform legislation that would strengthen border security and create a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants like Vaca. However, the bill has stalled in the Republican-controlled House.
Vaca said she believes Congress will pass immigration reform legislation next year. To help make that happen, she said more undocumented immigrants need to come out and tell their personal stories.