Sarahi Salamanca © Mark Tuschman
Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca
Country of Origin: Mexico
Founder and CEO of Dreamers Roadmap
My Name is Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca. I was born in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacán, Mexico. I came to the US when I was four years old.
My senior year of high school, as I was preparing to apply for college and financial aid, I found out that I didn’t have a Social Security Number. Therefore, that application couldn’t be processed and I was denied FAFSA. I remember going to my counselor and telling her my situation. I told her I really wanted to go to school, that I worked so hard to get my grades and to be involved in all sorts of leadership roles on campus. But she responded, “Well, unfortunately, people like you don’t go to college and there’s no money for people like you to go to college.” I felt so horrible having worked so hard to be told, “Thank you for working hard, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t qualify for anything and high school is all the way you can go.”
That was really difficult to digest, and this was the first time that anyone differentiated me from a normal American kid going to school.
I think my counselor wasn’t educated on the resources for students like myself and it was very discouraging. After that, I thought that I was the only one that was going through this. But little did I know that there are about 65,000 students a year in the United States that are going through the same thing.
Then it sunk in how many other counselors were like mine, telling these students they couldn’t go to college — and how much potential are we losing as a country by not giving these kids the opportunity to get educated in the only place that they know of as home. The majority of DACA students have been here since they were very young, so this is the only place that they know as their home.
DACA was kind of like a funny thing because my father passed away in 2011 — just a year shy from DACA — and I was still undocumented to that point. So, when DACA passed, I felt mad because I wished this would have come out a year ago and I could have gone to see my dad and been with him and my mother. I finally applied for DACA in October and by January, I had my DACA.
And then, I went back to school to Cañada College. DACA encouraged me to have a purpose, a reason to go to college.
DACA gave me the confidence to put myself out there to get a real job. My first job after having DACA was with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, which was super exciting.
I love to teach. That’s one of my passions. I’ve always taught at church since I was 12 years old. So part of my job was to be an Environmental Science and Technology Instructor for girl scouts and it gave me the opportunity to go to neighborhoods like mine where I grew up, and teach little girls about STEM. That was super impactful for me because I didn’t even know what STEM was until I was in college. And I’m like, “Man, I think if I would have known when I was a little kid that I could be an engineer, I would have totally gone the engineer route.” For me, it was a very gratifying job. I didn’t even consider it a job. It was fun for me to go out to the community and teach these little kids of STEM.
I think in a nutshell, DACA changed my life because it gave me the opportunity to learn things about myself that I didn’t. It gave me the opportunity to grow in the things that I already loved and was passionate about, and it gave me the confidence to go back to school and pursue my higher education, as I never had before.
I was invited by the White House to be honored as a Champion of Change by the Obama Administration for the work that I was doing with the Girl Scouts and on a blog called Sarahi.tv where I would post scholarship opportunities for undocumented students and low-income students in my community. I’m currently the founder and CEO of a mobile app called Dreamer’s Roadmap. It’s a free mobile app designed to help undocumented students across the country find scholarships to go to college.
DACA has been in a limbo since the current administration came into office. It was rescinded in September of 2017. In January 2018, it was brought back but not back in its entirety. We no longer have privileges to use Advanced Parole. New applicants that qualify for the program can no longer apply. There was a very short window when they were receiving new applications, but that was taken away very quickly. So right now, the only people that could renew are people who currently have DACA. They can only use their work permit, work authorization, and their safety from deportation.
But I feel like at this point we’ve already heard stories of a student who had DACA who was deported because he didn’t have his DACA identification with him that protected him from deportation. Right now, despite the fact that DACA is alleged to protect you from deportation, families don’t have that safety net because the current administration is not respecting what that executive action entails, which was security and safety for these students.
In this context, I think it’s important is to not use the word “illegal” to label people. Yes, a lot of people do come into this country with unauthorized entry, and that’s why people use that word, but they shouldn’t. Something is illegal, a person is not. A person is undocumented.
The second thing would be for them to think about their own immigration stories and to remember that everyone in this country, if you’re not Native American, you were also an immigrant somewhere down the line. People tend to forget that, especially, the very conservative people. Maybe you were born here, but your ancestors fled their country for the same reasons my parents fled theirs twenty years ago. It just so happens that yours fled 100 years ago, but it’s the same story. Everybody’s coming to this country with a dream of a better life with new opportunities that their current country couldn’t give them.
I tell people to remember that. However hard it is for you to look at me and label me and tell me that I don’t belong, that I’m an immigrant that I should go back home, remember your great grandparents or your ancestor’s story. Ask your parents. Try to