LAA has helped hundreds secure temporary immigration program for those who arrived here as children

Over the past two years, the Latin American Association has led efforts to assist young immigrants in Georgia secure deportation relief through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The LAA has helped raise awareness of the DACA program and held information forums and free DACA assistance days with other local organizations, as well as represented in-house hundreds of individuals in the application process. As of June 2014, 18,150 individuals from Georgia had been approved for Deferred Action. These are the stories of two young immigrants who came to the LAA to seek help.

Aspiring writer Aline Mello puts her English degree to work

For most of her years in college, the future looked pretty bleak for Aline Mello. As an undocumented immigrant who had lived most of her life in the United States, her choices upon graduating were to go back to her native Brazil or clean houses in Atlanta with her mom.

Aline-Resende-Mello-198x300But a few months before graduating from Oglethorpe University in December 2012, the prospects for Mello brightened when an executive order allowed eligible young people who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for a deportation deferral program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She applied and received her approval in January 2013, allowing her to stay here lawfully for two years. The LAA helped Mello with her application at a DACA Assistance Day.

“That just changed everything for me,” says Mello, who is now 25.

Aspiring writer Mello, who is from Brazil, is now able to work and drive. Thanks to Deferred Action, Mello was able to get a Social Security number, a driver’s license and a work permit. An aspiring writer, she currently works for In Touch Ministries, where she serves as an editorial assistant for the digital In Touch Magazine.

“I feel more like an adult,” she says. “Now I can take care of myself and pay my bills like everybody else.”

Mello was born in Goiânia, Brazil.When she was 7, she moved to the United States with her mother, father and older sister. Mello graduated from ­­­­­­­­­­­­Alpharetta High School in 2007 and attended Georgia Perimeter College. But she wanted a bachelor’s degree and transferred to Oglethorpe, where she paid the tuition mostly through scholarships.

When it got close to graduating from college, she saw going back to Brazil, where she hadn’t lived for more than 15 years, as her salvation. Mello, who is trilingual, graduated magna cum laude with degrees in English and Spanish. “I wasn’t going to stay here with two degrees not being able to drive or work,” she says. “That was inconceivable.”

Mello is getting ready to renew her Deferred Action so she can stay here two more years. “Now I know that next year I’m going to be here, and in two years I’m going to be here,” she says. “It’s nice to have the temporary relief. But it’s not permanent.” 

Artist Yehimi Cambrón has gained freedom, thinks about grad school

At 16, after living in the United States for almost 10 years, Yehimi Cambrón started to understand what it meant to be in this country as an undocumented youth.

“I always knew that I was undocumented,” she says. “I just didn’t really know exactly what that meant until I was 16 and it was time to get a driver’s license and I couldn’t. When it was time to go to college, a lot of doors were slammed shut.”

But in 2012, when Cambrón was halfway through college, an executive order announced that eligible young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children could apply for a temporary deportation relief program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), making them eligible for a driver’s license and a work permit. She came to a DACA Assistance Day at the LAA to seek help with her application.

“Once I got approved for Deferred Action, a lot of the fear was gone,” says Cambrón. “When I started driving, I wanted to cry from how happy I was. Driving gave me an amazing sense of freedom and independence.”

YEHIMI CAMBRONCambrón, now 22, came from Michoacán, Mexico with her parents and two brothers when she was 8. During their six-hour walk through the Arizona desert, she remembers her father taking turns to carry her and her younger brothers. She also remembers being “stacked in like tunas” on a van that took the family and others to a motel in Phoenix, with the family arriving in Atlanta soon after.

She learned English quickly and soon started to excel in school.

“When I was younger I used to help my mom and aunt clean houses. On our way to one of the houses, we would pass by Georgia Tech and each time we drove by, I would say ‘I want to go to college. I want to go to a place like that,’ ” she says. “I knew I belonged there. It was a dream that I always had.”

When the aspiring artist was ready to apply to college, Cambrón, who graduated in the top 5 percent of her class at Cross Keys High School, found many doors slammed in her face.

In Georgia, undocumented students currently cannot attend the state’s most selective public universities (Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Georgia College & State University and the Medical College of Georgia) and they must pay out-of-state tuition at state colleges and universities. Plus, undocumented students are not eligible for the HOPE scholarship. Attending a private school is hard too for undocumented students because they are not eligible for federal financial aid.

But Cambrón opened her own doors and managed to attend Agnes Scott College, a private liberal arts school, with a full ride from the Goizueta Foundation. She says that Agnes Scott was very understanding of her situation and helped her apply as an international student.

“Going to college was a dream come true. While I knew I deserved to go to college, it was very surreal and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening to me,” she says.

Cambrón majored in studio art and graduated in May 2014. Much of her art – she prefers drawings and printmaking on wood and rubber – focuses on what it means to be undocumented.

“Making art gives me the certainty that does not exist when one lives in this country as an undocumented immigrant,” Cambrón states in her website. “I make myself vulnerable by exposing my story through my art. Through portraiture and depictions of the figure, I highlight a neglected aspect of the greatly politicized immigration debate: the humanity and dignity of undocumented immigrants.”

Cambrón, whose goal is to teach art in college, now wants to get a master’s degree in fine arts. “It’s really competitive, but I know I can do it. My dream is to go to Yale or Columbia or the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.” FALL 2014

View a virtual gallery of Cambrón’s work