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 — The music blares, small children run between the tables, couples dance.
It's a party at a Mexican restaurant here sponsored by the Hispanic Council, a group that advocates for the local Latino community, and Cinthia Coronado is trying to be heard over the din.
“I think it's a pretty big deal. We actually have an identity. We don't have to hide,” she says, explaining the benefits of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, geared to young undocumented immigrants. “We can drive.”
As is, Coronado, 20, who came here from her native Mexico with her family when she was 3, can't operate an auto, not legally. She's undocumented and, as such, there's no way she can get a driver's license.
She can't even go to an R-rated movie because she doesn't have proper identification. When she tries to use a Mexican ID card to prove her age — a matricula consular issued by the Mexican Consulate — movie theaters reject it.
“I don't have a driver's license,” says the 2010 Goshen High School grad and Ivy Tech Community College radiology student. “I don't have any ID to go to the movies.”
Accordingly, if U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials approve her application for a Social Security card and work permit, submitted late last year per the deferred action program, it would be major. But it's hardly just about being able to drive or go to the movies.
The program, unveiled by President Obama last year, is geared to undocumented immigrants brought here as children by their parents. Restrictions apply, but successful applicants get a Social Security card, key in getting a driver's license here, and a two-year, renewable work permit.
In short, though several steps below U.S. citizenship, they gain a means to remain in the country legally and work.
“I'm actually going to have an ID. I'm going to have a number now. I can work. I don't have to hide,” Coronado says, imagining her future.
'PRETTY MUCH' AMERICAN
Coronado, originally from Monterrey, an industrial city in northern Mexico, came to the United States with a tourist visa, but overstayed it. Since she was so young at the time, it's almost like she was never there.
“I don't remember anything,” she says, now seated at a table at the Goshen Public Library, where she usually does her studying. “I've seen the pictures, but that's all I have.”
As is the norm with many brought here at a young age — members of her dad's side of the family were already in the Goshen area, which drew them here — her stronger connection is with the United States. She grew up in the local schools, played on the varsity soccer team at Goshen High School, participated in GHS' Fusion Latina club and played clarinet in the school marching band, for a while anyway.
“Pretty much I'm American. I still like my country, but it's different. I don't know if I'd make it if I went back there,” she says. She can speak and read Spanish, but she can't write the language so well.
Still, hers hasn't been a typical American-as-apple pie experience.
When her U.S.-born friends turned 16, many rushed to get their driver's licenses. But not Coronado, who couldn't without a Social Security card. In fact, she had to rely on friends to get to and from soccer practice, frequently bending her schedule to match theirs so she could hitch a ride.
“It was a constant reminder to me that I was limited in what I could do. You take a bus. You ask for a ride,” she says.
At home, it was — and is — more akin to Monterrey. “It''s Spanish. It's Mexican food. It's Mexico.”
Following high school graduation, Coronado attended Indiana University South Bend for two years. But after Indiana lawmakers passed legislation in 2011 making undocumented immigrants pay higher non-resident tuition rates at public colleges and universities here, she transferred to Ivy Tech. She still has to pay non-resident tuition rates, not the lower in-state rates despite her many years here, but at least it's cheaper than IUSB.
'TO THE MOVIES'
Looking ahead, to when she finishes her radiology studies, Coronado hopes she can do the sorts of things that others take for granted.
Deferred action, presuming her application is approved, isn't the perfect solution — not like a pathway to U.S. citizenship, as contemplated in a U.S. Senate proposal announced last week. But it's way better than nothing. It definitely opens some doors that otherwise would stay closed.
“Now I want to work. I want to have my own bank account. I want to be able to drive,” she says.
Her younger 16-year-old sister, born here in the United States, has it easy by comparison, Coronado notes. But Coronado, too, feels her day coming.
She and another friend, who also submitted a deferred action application, are already making plans for when their paperwork is approved. First thing, they'll get driver's licenses, proving their age to those who would keep them out of the theater.
“We're going to go out and we're going to go to the movies,” she says.