Steven Horsford’s mother immigrated to New York from Trinidad when she was 12 years old.
His grandmother worked two jobs as a housekeeper to support her family before falling ill and being hospitalized. Horsford was 9 weeks old. His mother was still a teenager, not yet 18. Eventually overstaying her visa to be with Horsford’s ailing grandmother, his mother lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant.
“I grew up not understanding any of that,” Horsford said. “As I’ve gotten older, and I learned how the process works — I realized that my mom was a DREAMer.”
His mother became a legal resident — a beneficiary of Reagan era immigration reform legislation — and is in the process of getting her citizenship.
Her story underlies his support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and comprehensive immigration reform, the Democratic candidate in Nevada’s fourth congressional district said this week over dinner with DACA recipients.
“You are all like my mom,” Horsford said.
At the dinner, organized by the Nevada Immigrant Coalition, Horsford reiterated his support for immigration policies that create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth.
“It’s not just one community affected by this. It affects a lot of people, and it’s because of a broken system,” Horsford said. “There needs to be a bridge between communities that are marginalized, communities that have been cast aside because of bad policy and discrimination.”
The Obama administration established the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through an executive order signed June 15, 2012, offering legal status and work permits to those who were brought to the country illegally when they were children through no fault of their own.
Last year the Trump Administration announced the cancellation of the DACA program, which has since been subject to a steady stream of lawsuits in order to keep it in place.
In Nevada, 13,000 DREAMers have received DACA. Nationwide nearly 700,000 DREAMers sit in limbo awaiting the fate of the policy.
Aranza Marmolejo, 19, has been a DACA recipient since 2016. She was able to renew her application this summer after getting a full ride scholarship to Nevada State College.
Originally, Marmolejo said her mom was scared to enroll her in DACA — it is after all only temporary, requiring people to renew it every two years.
“They then have all your information, and look at what happened,” Marmolejo said referring to news of DACA enrollees being targeted by immigration authorities. “It just feels like these politicians have our lives in their hands and they can do whatever they want.”
She says she is grateful for the people who fought before her, giving her the opportunities she now has, and wants to continue the fight for others.
Joseline Cuevas came to the United States when she was 3 years old. Her DACA story started the day she turned 15 when her mother’s birthday present to her was a call to a lawyer.
“Once DACA was announced the only thing my family waited for was for me to turn 15,” said Cuevas’s. “A week later we went to the lawyers office to process the paperwork.”
Cuevas said she did not find out she was undocumented until her mom sat her down and told her she couldn’t go on a school trip out of the country.
She said the day Trump won the presidential election she feared for her immigration status. While other students enjoyed their senior year, Cuevas worried about her position in the United States.
“Right now my life is slowly getting back together,” Cuevas said.
Horsford was a co-sponsor of the bill in 2013 that would have established comprehensive immigration reform. It passed the Senate but was never brought up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House even though supporters claim it would have passed.
In 2005, while the Millennium Scholarship was being debated, Horsford fought against a proposal that would have required a social security number in order to apply, effectively excluding undocumented students.
Claudia Esquer, 19, is a DACA recipient. This will be her third year with DACA. It wasn’t until two days after the Trump Administration announced that DACA would be rescinded that she finally cried.
“At first it didn’t hit me. I kept saying ‘everything will work out, everything will work out.’ I tried seeing it with positivity,” Esquer said.
She is studying psychology with a minor in counseling at UNLV and said Nevada’s Millennium Scholarship has been a constant help. Her goal is to work for Child Protections Services in the future.
“My dream is to help people regardless of the income it brings me,” Esquer said.
Esquer’s 14 year old sister is the only legal U.S citizen in her family, she worries about what would happen to her if the rest of them were ever forced to leave.
While the DREAM Act is often touted as a Democratic-aligned immigration policy the popularity of DACA can be seen on the other side of the isle too, Horsford’s Republican opponent in the 4th Congressional District, former congressman Cresent Hardy, has broken rank with Republicans in voting to preserve funding for DACA.
And last year Hardy signed onto an open letter calling on Congress to protect Nevada’s DREAMers before the year ended.
A July Latino Decisions poll of voters in battleground congressional districts nationwide found that over 70 percent of voters support the DREAM Act.
Nevada Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, also joined the dinner and committed to protecting DACA.
“I will commit to continue to fight for DREAMers,” Ford said. “I will will work with [Horsford] as much as we can as he continues to fight for comprehensive immigration reform.”
He said politicians often try to punt the issue of immigration, saying it needs to be dealt with on a federal level. But “as a state attorney general there is a lot that we could be doing to support immigration,” Ford said.
“Nevada isn’t even party to these lawsuits protecting DACA,” Ford said, a jab at Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt who has not signed onto any lawsuits trying to preserve DACA nor has he taken any action against it.
Deisy Casto, who hosted the dinner, has been a DACA recipient for 6 years now, she’s a homeowner and a special education teacher who works with autistic children.
Four months after she received her Masters in special education Trump announced the discontinuation of DACA. She said it made her realize that everything she had could be taken from her in an instant.
“It’s like your dreams are coming down,” Casto said. “You reach so high but at the same time you know someone is trying to pull you back down.”