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.
GOSHEN — It wasn't until middle school that Michelle Salgado started grasping the notion that she was an undocumented immigrant.
Even then, she didn't totally understand what it meant. Nearing graduation from Concord High School, though, it all became crystal clear.
“That's when it really hits you and you feel you're undocumented,” said Salgado, a 2010 Concord grad.
Lacking formal residency, let alone U.S. citizenship, she noticed the closed doors. Spurred by the lack of work opportunities in Mexico, Salgado, her younger sister and their parents had come to the United States in 1996 from Jojutla, a small city south of Mexico City.
She didn't have a Social Security card so she couldn't get a driver's license.
She couldn't get a job, like other students, also because she had no Social Security number.
As an undocumented immigrant, many, many scholarships and college loan programs were off-limits.
“It's very frustrating, because I don't consider myself a bad person. So why am I denied all these thing?” she wondered.
At times, it made her question the value of her efforts in high school.
She served on student council at Concord High School, was named to the National Honor Society, sang in choir and took part in the Key Club, a public service group. If so many doors remained shut despite her best efforts, what was the point of trying? Would she end up at a factory job?
It was stressful, a “slap in the face,” and it seemed unfair. “I don't think I'm different, but people see me as different because I don't have a Social Security number,” she said.
Technically she's a Mexican, she was born there, Salgado acknowledges. But she's been here 16-plus years, since she was 5, and “if you ask me about my culture, I'd say I'm bicultural. Being here so long you adapt American ways.”
Having to go back to Mexico, she continued, would be tough. “I think I would not want to do that. It would be hard for me,” she said.
A STATE OF LIMBO
Thankfully for her, she received a scholarship to Goshen College, where she's a junior. That's where she's speaking, in the basement of Kulp Hall, a brick, ivy-covered residential building.
And late last year she received a work permit and Social Security number through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program, unveiled last year by President Obama, is meant to help qualified undocumented immigrants who came here as children gain a legal foothold in the nation.
The Social Security card has enabled Salgado to get a learner's permit, required before getting a driver's license. With the two-year, renewable work permit, she'll be able to get a job when she graduates Goshen College with her biology degree. Salgado hopes to become a high school teacher.
Even so, she still feels like she's in a certain state of limbo.
Her work permit is renewable, for now. But there's no guarantee the deferred action program — blasted by critics as a mockery of the nation's immigration laws — will last indefinitely. Better would be a path to formal residency or U.S. citizenship. Such mechanisms are outlined in a U.S. Senate immigration reform proposal announced last week and the DREAM Act, a measure geared specifically to high school- and college-aged undocumented immigrants that's come up in the past.
“I'm not sure what I'm considered,” Salgado said.
With the work permit she's able to stay and get a job, she won't be deported, and that's significant. She's grateful.
“But I'm still not a citizen or a (legal permanent) resident,” Salgado added.