By one estimate, President Barack Obama’s order to halt deportations of undocumented youth and grant them work permits may benefit 1.4 million people in this country.
One of them is Ana Venegas, who’s set to graduate Saturday from Cal State Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She lives on a tree lined street in South Gate. Her grandmother lives in a house in front; Ana, her two sisters and parents are in a back house. She and her father are undocumented.
Her final exams over the day before, Ana catches her breath to reflect on the difficulties of earning a degree while being illegally in this country.
“It’s been really, really difficult. I’ve actually been really sad these past couple of weeks because I’ve lost weight. I feel like I’m underweight because of the stress that it involves, having to work, paying for school and not knowing where the money is going to come from,” she said.
Much of the support to persevere comes from her mother, Ana Luisa Gonzalez.
“She had some doubts about money, and being undocumented,” Gonzalez said. But she told her daughter she’d do anything to see her with a college degree, even selling the house. The diploma may have Ana Venegas’ name on it, her mother says, but it’s the family’s degree too.
When she was 16, right around the time she was acting and singing in high school plays, Venegas joined an evangelical Christian church. That’s been her other pillar of support through college. She joined the church’s rock band because she finds solace in the music and the lyrics.
Her parents came illegally from Guadalajara, Mexico two months before her first birthday. Even though she speaks Spanish, Venegas’ connection to Mexico is weak — she identifies more as an American.
An American who can’t sign up for a drivers’ license, can’t travel out of the country — she wanted to go on a church mission to Africa, but couldn't. And she can’t get a traditional job because she doesn’t have a Social Security number. It’s an existence, she says, that doesn’t feel normal.
“And to this day sometimes I feel a little bit of, I don’t know if 'shame' is the word — I think it’s more like fear of what people would think about me. I’ve gotten really weird responses when I tell people, like ‘but you don’t look undocumented,’” she said.
Now part of that stigma is set to be lifted as President Obama grants undocumented youth like Ana Venegas a work permit, and a stay of deportation. The announcement came on the eve of her graduation.
“Now with this policy, it’s a lifesaver. It’s not just going to be for me, but for thousands and thousands of students in my situation that have already graduated, but they are stuck in limbo and they don’t know what to do with their career,” she said.
There was already some hope for Venegas before President Obama’s announcement — she’s engaged to a U.S. citizen and her mother now has a green card.
She tries on the black cap and gown the day before her graduation. It’ll be a very normal ritual with thousands of other graduates at Cal State L.A. Her gown will be adorned with the gold-colored cord of the academic honor society.
“School in general is not that hard. I think it’s like, school doesn’t necessarily measure your intelligence, it measures more your endurance,” she said.
Venegas expects a lot of opposition to the Obama administration’s policy. The struggle may even lead to the policy’s revocation, she says. Even so, no one can take away her bachelor’s degree in sociology. A degree that she believes should be a double major in perseverance.