Editor's note: Elkhart County has its share of undocumented immigrants.
Drawn largely by factory jobs, they work here, for sure. But it doesn't end there — they go to school here, shop here, play here, pray here. Judging by data and anecdotal information from schools, employers and the U.S. Census Bureau, they're focused in the growing Latino community, now 14.5 percent of the local population, and come chiefly from Mexico.
In this three-day series, Out of the Shadows, we meet some of the younger undocumented immigrants trying to secure a place in the community via the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative. Some have already received work permits and permission to remain, for now. If they have their way, they're here to stay.
Sunday, Feb. 3: Out of the shadows; meet Michelle Salgado; and more on deferred action.
Today, Feb. 4: Meet Dara Marquez; meet Luis; and meet Erick.
Tuesday, Feb. 5: Meet Cinthia Coronado.
ELKHART — Luis has graduated from the ranks of the undocumented and it feels pretty good.
A 2012 Concord High School graduate, he applied for a work permit and Social Security card last year through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative and got them. He came here 10 years ago from Mexico with his mother, lived in the shadows as an undocumented immigrant, but can now claim to be lawfully present in the United States, per his successful application.
“It feels good now not to be a number, to have your identity,” he said.
The status falls short of formal residency or U.S. citizenship. Still, he can work and he doesn't face deportation. “It literally changed my life,” said Luis, now a freshman at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M.
A TRIP TO DISNEYLAND?
Luis — who asked that his last name not be used to prevent backlash directed at his parents, who are undocumented — came to the country 10 years ago, when he was 7 or 8. His dad was already here and he made the trip across the border with his mother from the south central Mexican city of Apan, the hometown of many Mexicans living in Elkhart County.
“I had no idea I was coming here to live,” he said recently, on winter break from college and seated in his parents' south Elkhart apartment. Indeed, his mother told him they were coming here to visit Disneyland.
Time passed, though, and Elkhart became home.
At the same time, as he grew up and started high school he became increasingly anxious about his undocumented status. Unable to get a driver's license, he realized he'd have bigger problems than his U.S.-born counterparts if pulled over while driving and avoided autos. As he started looking into college during his final years at Concord High School, he discovered there were fewer loan and scholarship programs available to him.
“I thought it was embarrassing to be undocumented,” he said.
Seeking the camaraderie of others in similar circumstances through a group called Indiana's Dream Initiative helped. The group is made up of young undocumented students and advocates on their behalf.
“It gave me hope,” he said. Being undocumented, he realized, “doesn't make me less human.”
Then came President Obama's decision to authorize the deferred action initiative. He applied and with his deferred action application accepted, he's since gotten a learner's permit, the first step before getting a driver's license. Barring dramatic change, he'll be able to get a job when he finishes college, where he's studying business.
That said, the story isn't over. Like others in the same situation, he wants something more solid — formal residency, U.S. citizenship.
Sure he feels a connection with Mexico. He was born there, his parents are from there. But his formative years have been spent here in the United States and this is where he has the strongest connection.
“I grew up the American way,” he said.