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 — She wasn't born here.
But for Dara Marquez — born in Mexico and here since she was 3 — this is where she belongs. She may be classified an undocumented immigrant, but Elkhart, the United States, has become home.
“This is where I've met all my friends, all of my loved ones,” she said.
That's not to say she doesn't have an affinity for Mexico. She hears about the country from family and she grew up surrounded by other transplants here in Elkhart County from her hometown, Apan in the south-central Mexican state of Hidalgo.
It's just that she and her family have worked so hard to carve out a niche here. She's received, is still receiving, her education here, now from Saint Mary's College in South Bend, and the United States is a more stable place.
“Having to go back to Mexico would be a form of defeat for my family,” said Marquez, a 2011 Concord High School grad. Yes, Mexico is beautiful, “but for now I can't fathom it because we also have something stable here and something we've worked for.”
Being undocumented, though, she can't legally work in the United States and, as such, she's applied for a work permit and Social Security number through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Unveiled last year by President Obama, it's geared to young undocumented immigrants, providing qualified applicants a means to remain here legally and work, at least into the near term.
'A BIG STEP'
Marquez came with her mother to Elkhart 17 years ago, when she was 3, to join her father, who had come two years earlier in search of work and a better life. Now 20, she's a sophomore at Saint Mary's College, where she's studying chemical engineering, hoping one day to break into scientific research.
She's not ashamed of her undocumented status. It adds complications to life, but it's also shaped who she's become.
“I try to be smart about it,” she said, seated at the dining room table in the family home in Elkhart. “I don't hide it, but I don't tell everybody.”
Her father, Alvaro Marquez, chimes in, noting the practical benefits of securing deferred action status. If her application is accepted, she'd get a work permit and a Social Security number. She'd be able to work, she'd be able to get a driver's license, benefitting not only her, but the entire family.
“It's a big step for everybody,” he said.