In God’s Hands
As the controversy regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation continues, two “Dreamers” from the Salvation Army’s Queens (Temple) N.Y., Corps, share their stories. They talk about coming to the United States; the mentors who helped them succeed; and how, through God and The Salvation Army, they discovered their destinies.
In 2007, my mother and I arrived from Santiago, Chile to visit family. At six years old, I didn’t pay much attention to the problems my family was having back home; I was too fascinated by New York City. I also didn’t notice that my mother was quietly making plans for us to stay permanently. Not long after that, my father, a pastor in Santiago, left some money for our extended family in Chile and came to New York to be with us.
Around 9th or 10 thgrade, I began to understand what it meant to be undocumented. Ms. Karcher, my high school Spanish teacher, held a discussion on immigration and the meaning of deportation. After class, I was on the verge of tears. I told her I was undocumented, and I knew that my status meant that I could never travel out of the country, have a real job, or even get help for school.
Through Ms. Karcher, I contacted a community center where I applied for DACA. I understood it would allow immigrants, who came to the U.S. at a young age, to stay. A school counselor also informed me about the Dream Scholarship, a scholarship for young undocumented Dreamers in the process of applying to DACA.
I received my DACA acceptance a few weeks before being awarded the Dream Scholarship. The scholarship was accepted in my school of choice, City College of New York. I was in such shock when I heard the news; this was real, and this was happening to me. Today when I look back on it, I feel a sense of overwhelming love, both from God and from those people who helped me achieve it.
Before going to college, I spent a summer with the Salvation Army’s Creative Arts Service Team (CAST). I remember thinking that I wasn’t good enough to be a member of CAST, even as I prepared my audition tape. The thought was similar to that of being undocumented. I’m not there yet, I don’t belong here, none of this is for me. But I took a leap of faith, knowing that God had already done miracles in my life with DACA and with my scholarship. If it was His will, He would do miracles here, too, I thought. Why should any of us doubt ourselves, when it is God who chooses us? My summer with CAST was the best of my life; it prepared me to study theater in college.
Theater can be a hard place for a believer. Many productions display the secular side of society, and there are aspects of an actor’s world that will test you. But my faith in God is what makes me stand out among others. It’s a privilege to stand out as a Christian. There are people around you who may have a negative understanding of what a believer is. God can fix that, and it starts with you.
I trust the government to do what’s right. I also know that all it takes is one president or one senator to change things and DACA could be gone forever. DACA is in God’s hands, as is everything in life. Every day is a gift, and we live them by His mercy.
Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus.” I was anxious so many times in the past, beginning with my future as an undocumented immigrant. But I also found the peace of God in thanking Him as I was asking for his blessing. We should be as intentional in praying as we wish our prayers to be answered. When I ask God for something, I finish my prayer with, “Lord, thank you, because Your answer is on its way.”
On the first day of her visit to the United States, my mom was invited to the Queens Temple Corps. When she returned to Argentina, she and my dad discussed plans for our family to move permanently to the U.S. My mother was the first to move, followed by my father a short time later. In seven months, my brothers and I joined them. When I arrived, everyone welcomed us at my uncle’s house with gifts of toys and clothing. At nine years old, I didn’t understand what was happening. I was just happy to be with my parents again.
In high school, my friends traveled out of the country for vacations and Sweet 16 celebrations. Being undocumented, those were things I could not do. When I began planning for college, my mother warned me that opportunities would be limited for someone like me. I felt angry and trapped in my situation. After graduation, I volunteered at the Queens Temple Corps rather than attend college. I also worked the front desk of a doctor’s office for less than minimum wage. Nonetheless, I was grateful because I knew so many undocumented people who needed a job.
My next job became a turning point in my life. I worked at a law firm, and my boss Neil, an immigrant like myself, mentored me. He became a second father to me, took me under his wing, and taught me everything he knew about his business. With his guidance, I was promoted within the firm. Neil saw my potential and was determined to help me have a real future.
I had heard about DACA, but I didn’t give it much thought because of the uncertainty surrounding it. One day as I walked to work, I prayed to God. I said that I would accept any plans He had for me, but confessed how afraid I was of my own situation being undocumented. Then I got a call from Neil. He said he had news and I needed to come to work right away. When I arrived at the firm, everyone was watching our conference room TV as a newscaster announced the passing of DACA. Neil hugged me and said that I would finally have real working papers. I went to the bathroom and cried. I called my mom and I thanked God; I was seeing how His hands had worked through all this. Through the firm, Neil handled my registration and paid my application fees for DACA. He also paid the registration and fees for my two brothers, so we could all apply for DACA together.
Later, I pursued my dream of becoming an event planner. As I studied hospitality in college, I hoped to one day own an event planning business. I eventually worked for a large event planning company where the hours were long, and the work was hard. In time, my dream became a nightmare. I left that job and returned to the Queens Temple Corps, this time as an employee.
I went from throwing parties for football team owners to serving the homeless community of Queens. As a youth pastor, I also worked with children. It was a humbling change, but it lit a fire inside me. I realized that this was the best way to serve others. After speaking to my corps officers, I decided to enroll as a cadet in the College for Officer Training. My idea of hospitality had been to serve drinks at parties; today it’s to welcome lost souls into the house of God.
It’s a blessing to be under DACA. It opens opportunities and takes away so many indescribable fears. There are immigrants here who are much younger than I was when I arrived. The only country they know as home is the United States. This nation has always believed in opening its doors to others. Taking DACA away would essentially close those doors.
There’s no immigrant who gets exactly what he or she expected. My plans and God’s plans have never been on the same page. But Proverbs 16:9 reminds me that, although I plan my course, only the Lord establishes my steps. Through prayer and confirmation, God has shown me each of those steps and along with them, brought me His peace.
interviews by Hugo Bravo