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 — Erick dreams of going into law enforcement. Maybe the U.S. Marines.
The adventure of it appeals to him. He likes the notion of helping people. “I'm kind of a thrill seeker,” he explains.
For now, though, things are on hold for the 19-year-old 2012 Elkhart Memorial High School grad, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
He's applied for a work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services program allows qualifying undocumented immigrants who came here as children to remain and provides them with Social Security cards and two-year, renewable work permits.
But still awaiting a response, Erick isn't allowed to work. So he bides his time. He lifts weights (“It's just my way of getting away from things”) and he crosses his fingers, hoping to avoid the likely alternative without proper work papers — no work or blue-collar work, a factory job.
“Without deferred action, I pretty much don't have any option in life, so it is a pretty big deal,“ he says, seated in the office of the Elkhart lawyer who helped him with his deferred action application, Rosy Meza.
Erick is low-key (Meza asks that his last name not be used in light of the testy national immigration debate, wanting to minimize potential backlash). His tattooed biceps peeks from under his short-sleeve shirt. His dad — a solderer who also asks not to be named — stands along the wall in the office.
He was born in Mexico and lived in the city of Piedras Negras, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, until coming here to Indiana in 1997 or 1998, when he was three or four. Ask him about his time south of the border and he draws a blank, recalling only a swing that he used to play on outside his grandfather's home.
“He doesn't remember anything,” says Erick's dad.
In fact, he's a product of Elkhart Community Schools — Beardsley Elementary, North Side Middle School and Memorial.
“We've got a picture here,” says Meza, pulling out a class photo of Erick when he was five or so, without any front teeth. “I'm going to show you how cute he was.”
He doesn't feel much connection with Mexico, which he hasn't seen since leaving in the late 1990s. “I just hate thinking about it,” he says, contemplating the notion of returning to the country to live. “I'm pretty much scared about going back because I don't know anything about it.”
And he doesn't get riled when the immigration issue comes up and he hears critics' complaints that undocumented immigrants should leave the country. “I really do feel American and it just doesn't bother me when they talk about it,” he says.
That said, he doesn't go out of his way to advertise his migratory status, has shared the information with only a select few. He suspects many would be surprised if they knew, so he waits, hoping for a favorable response from immigration officials on his deferred action application.
“I just really hope they approve all my stuff so I can get my life going,” he says.