Vianey Lemus Martínez

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Vianey Lemus Martinez is a fourth year undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying Spanish. She grew up in Tulancingo, Hidalgo in Mexico until age nine when she and her family moved to Durham, North Carolina where they have lived ever since. Lemus Martinez was hesitant to apply for a legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that began in 2012. However, after her father, a construction worker, was in a car accident that left him car-less, Lemus Martinez applied for the status and obtained a driver’s license, allowing her family to get a car. With DACA, Lemus Martinez has enjoyed benefits of driving and expanded employment opportunities. She hopes to travel abroad to Mexico as part of an educational experience. Nevertheless, she feels that DACA is only a short-term Band-Aid solution to larger immigration issues in the U.S. The uncertain future often leaves Lemus Martinez feeling anxious, but she finds solace in the power of the people to push through the challenges that may come.



[00:00:07] Frances Reuland: Ok. My name is Frances Reuland. It is February 26th, 2016. This interview is taking place at UNC-Chapel Hill in Davis Library, and it is approximately 6:30 pm. I will let my interviewee state her name and the consent to record this interview.
Vianey Lemus Martinez: My name is Vianey Lemus Martinez and you have all my consent to record the interview.
FR: Great. So I just wanted to start off by stating that Vianey was interviewed three years ago, or almost three years ago, in April of 2013 by Antonio de Jesus Alanís, and that interview can be found on the Nuevas Raíces website. That interview had more of a focus on education, but now that Vianey is here with us again, I’m going to ask her about her experience with DACA because since then she has applied and received deferred action status. So with that yeah I’m just going to start. So just to start off, can you briefly explain what that means? Like what is DACA? I know you can Google it [Laughter], but it might just be helpful to just hear--(Vianey interjects “yeah”) your interpretation of it.
VLM: Yeah, so I guess yeah I will just tell you my understanding of it but I think usually the way I think of DACA. It’s, it’s complicated because there are all these terms. [00:01:51] So I think of it as a status. But it’s a no-lawful status so I don’t have any kind of legal status in the country, but it’s essentially me telling the government I’m here in the U.S. without any documentation but look at all of these different requirements that I can fulfill because I’ve been here so long. And I think they basically say like OK since I know you’re here we’re going to let you be in the country for two years. The promise in a way is that I won’t get deported, and they will give me a license, a social security number to work, a permit to work. And yeah I think those are the benefits. Yeah essentially like opportunity for work and a license and depending on the state.
FR: Great. When specifically did you get it since the last interview?
VLM: So, I can’t remember exactly. So I remember when I, I was a first year at Carolina. I think that summer after being a first year at Carolina was when they approved the program. I think it was the summer of 2012, so like June I think. And I remember being a little--I was very hesitant about applying. I didn’t feel like I needed to apply because, so the DACA program came from the DREAMers or the DREAMer movement when a lot of students came forward about their status and essentially they call it “coming out of the closet,” you know comparing it to a different movement but essentially coming out of the shadows and telling people like look I’m undocumented and I’m here in this country but I don’t want to be in the shadows anymore. Because ever since I can remember, I don’t remember a time when my parents were like you’re undocumented, or like you’re illegal, nothing like that. But I do remember--I just know that I knew. I just knew that I was undocumented—how exactly I don’t remember—but so that was something you just knew you don’t tell anyone. When I was in high school like no one knew about my status. I think different to other students that I knew who didn’t have documents I was performing well in school and I think that because I was a good student people just automatically assumed that I was also a citizen, which doesn’t really make sense in my head to me, but to people it did. No one ever questioned my status. I think it wasn’t until senior year that my status became an issue. [00:04:42] But so when I was already at UNC I didn’t feel like I needed to apply to the program because a lot of students that were pushing for the program was in order to be able to afford going to school. I think the main idea was to get a legal status and be able to afford in-state tuition. But by the time that the program passed I was already in college, I had been lucky enough to get financial help to attend school, so like I said I didn’t feel the need to do it. And I was also scared because it was like basically me coming forward to immigration telling them that I was here. And not just that but also I had to put in my parents’ information and that really made me really scared because I think my thought was like well, how do I know that they’re really not going to come one day and take me? Or like, what if in five years the program is gone and they decide to go through all those files and start deporting people from there? Because I think even though they said they’re not supposed to do that, I’m like what’s the guarantee that they’re not going to do it? So because of that I think I waited until maybe a year or so before I actually applied. I think I applied the following year or so. So yeah I think I can’t remember the question anymore.
FR: No you did. I just asked you about when you got it, but you covered that pretty well. So in the first interview, you emphasized the importance of your family in your daily life and in getting through challenges that you faced in the first year of college. So how did your family impact your decision to apply for DACA?
VLM: Yeah, well they definitely played a huge role. As I mentioned I didn’t want to do it. But then in the summer of I guess 2013, so the following summer -- [00:06:41] my dad had a car accident, and my dad is a construction worker and he needs his car to get to work. So he was going to work that morning, and he was at a stoplight. The stoplight turned green, so he went forward. But a car coming from the other side didn’t stop at the red light, so he hit my dad, and his car was completely destroyed. Luckily he was totally fine, nothing happened to him, which was almost a miracle I think compared to how the car ended up. But so in North Carolina, if you don’t have a social security or a state I.D., you can’t get a license, which means you can’t get a registration for a license plate for a car. So it was like all those things that trickled down. So when my dad got in the car accident, he didn’t have a car anymore, which meant he needed a new one to get to work, but he didn’t have a license because of his immigration status. So at the time I remember him trying to figure out what are we going to do because I need a car to get to work, but I can’t get a registration. Like we could buy a car but we couldn’t get a registration because of--he didn’t have the documents for it. So the options then were for him to try to find someone that could perhaps register the car under their name, so essentially it would be under someone’s name but he would use the car. Or he was also thinking of traveling to a different state. I think he was thinking of going all the way to Washington State, because over there even if you didn’t have a license you could still get the registration for the car. So you still get a license plate because he needed the license plate for the car. But then I guess at that time I figured if I apply to DACA I could get a license, and if I could get a license, my dad could get the registration for his car. So even though I think I was afraid of doing it, I remember talking with my parents and telling them this is the best solution that we have because I didn’t want my dad going so far. I also I think I was scared of someone maybe just taking his money and promising that they would get the license plate for the car here in North Carolina and then not doing it, because we had heard of people doing that already. So we decided that I was going to apply for DACA. It actually took a while for me to get the paperwork and everything. Like a couple of months. Which in between my dad was, he was getting rides from other people. It was a hard time, but we managed through, and then eventually I remember even when I had to--like I got the permit, which was really exciting, but then I had to apply to get my license because I didn’t even know how to drive [Laughter]. So I had to learn how to drive too while I was waiting for the permit. So then I remember when I went to get my license I super scared, because I was scared I was not going to get it, and then that was going to be another issue. But I was lucky. I passed the driving test. I passed the other test, so I was able to get my license, and then within days I think were able to get my dad’s license registration and everything figured out. So that was that pushing factor that really pushed me to want to go and just apply for DACA even though I had some fears before.
FR: Wow, that’s a powerful story. You must’ve been--you must’ve felt a lot of pressure, almost like your family situation was relying on you in this way. And even though it wasn’t something you wanted to do originally.
VLM: Exactly. I think if it hadn’t been for that, I don’t think I would’ve applied. Like I said, I really don’t feel like I had the need for it, which I think I’m lucky for that. I was already on campus. I didn’t really need to drive. I wasn’t working because I wanted to focus on school to keep my scholarship, so there was really no need, but then you know things happen, and it just felt like it was the best solution. And it took a while to go through the whole process. It was also money. The first time that I applied it was almost five hundred dollars for just the application, and then it was five hundred dollars for the lawyer that helped. [00:11:15] So it was a total of a thousand dollars to get it, which was really frustrating too, because I remember I filled out all the paperwork, I looked for all of the different papers that they--like you need to fulfill certain requirements to be approved for the program. So I found all the documents that I needed. I feel like I did everything by myself, and then we went to a lawyer because I was afraid that if--because if you don’t get approved you can’t reapply. So I was really scared that I would apply and then for like a dumb mistake I’m not going to get it. But when I went to the lawyer, the lawyer was just like oh, everything looks great. You filled out everything well. They literally just put dividers in my papers to separate, and we paid five hundred dollars. So it was really frustrating because of that, because I just felt like that was something I could’ve done myself. But I think also there was so much like--I don’t know the word to use--I don’t know like tension or uncertainty with this program, that it was always like just like this one opportunity that we have to take and you have to be super careful. Because if you make one mistake they could deny it or you can you know like get yourself in more trouble. Because also a lot of people were like if you don’t have a clean record don’t even apply like immigration is going to come and get you. But I had a clean record so I wasn’t worried about that, but it just felt a lot of pressure as you mentioned. So that’s why we relied on lawyers and then wasted that money essentially.
FR: Oh my goodness.
VLM: But, at least I got [Laughter] the permit so that was nice.
FR: Good for you. You mentioned that at first--so you felt like you didn’t need it and you were hesitant to apply, but -- [00:13:06] have you found, now that you do have it--are there benefits that you didn’t expect that you’re like--other than of course being able to get your dad a car for work--have you been like wow I’m glad I did this? What kind of--are there any moments like that, where unexpected benefits?
VLM: Yeah. I think, this may be silly but, it’s so convenient to be able to drive [Laughter], and to--so in my hometown from where--I’m from Durham, North--well I was not born there, but I’ve lived in Durham, North Carolina for a long time so I call it home. And in Durham there has been a lot of checkpoints very constantly. Like there’s a lot of checkpoints and it’s not--it’s very known that people get--like you get tickets if you don’t have a license obviously, but sometimes people get taken to jail if you are driving and it’s not been their first time that they get you without a license. And it’s--like if you don’t have a license at all and you can’t get a license, chances are they’re going to catch you more than once. So, first I wouldn’t drive. But then I think one of the things that I’ve enjoyed is like I learned how to drive, and when I’m home I’m not scared of just having to look out, or like having to look up if they’re sending messages like saying oh there’s a checkpoint here or a checkpoint there like that’s something that I don’t have to worry about, which I think--it’s really--it’s great. Like it’s something that I don’t think I had considered before when I didn’t want to apply. But now, even for example, if I’m with--if I go home and we’re going somewhere my parents already know I’m driving, they’re not driving. Because it’s like why are we going to risk it when I can drive for us? Or like if we go to the store or anything because it’s so -- [00:14:58] I recall one time in the neighborhood that I used to live, literally outside of our neighborhood they put a checkpoint. And if you look at the demographics it’s really frustrating because I think it--it was--it’s on purpose. They say it’s not on purpose but it’s on purpose that they put it there like it’s strategic. And I remember we--I was with my parents and my brother and we were coming--I don’t know where we were coming from--but it was a Sunday afternoon and we were coming back home, like we were in a great mood. I remember us being, you know like, fine and you see all the police cars. And at that moment my mom--like I remember her face just like--it almost--like her skin was just white of the fear in her. And she was like--my dad was driving, and she was like you’re going to get a ticket. I hope they don’t say anything. What are we going to do? And my dad is always like well don’t worry; it’s just a ticket. We’re going to pay it--like I’m going to pay it. I’m going to go to court if I need to and it’s going to be fine. But I think my mom that fear of him having to go to the authorities--something like that--it really gets to her. And luckily that time my dad--because he had a license before because he has been here a long time, so he had a license before when you could get a license, but it expired like I don’t know how many years ago. But he still has it with him. So he showed it to the officer, and the officer--he actually said--like he was like oh just make sure to get this renewed.
FR: Wow.
VLM: And I know that he was probably not supposed to do that, and he probably knew why my dad didn’t have his license. But I just remember I--first I think of my mom and just how all the emotions that she felt at the moment. And also like I was super relieved you know--felt happy that there’s people like that officer that just let us go that time. But I think that’s a situation that I don’t have to worry about personally because even if there’s a checkpoint I’m like look at my license I have one. So it’s definitely one of the things that I didn’t realize. I think also something else with an employer’s permit that I didn’t have before. I have now --[00:17:09] I can apply to a lot more jobs than I did before. And I think before my mentality was like I’ve figured it out until now I’m going to keep figuring it out, like it will be fine. But now I think I realize that it’s--it’s a lot easier in different ways. So for example, even after for graduation, the program that I applied to has been because I have DACA. So they’re able to take DACA recipients, but bef--if I didn’t have anything I wouldn’t be able to apply. So just little things like that that I guess then I didn’t think of but now I realize.
FR: Yeah. Great. Do you have friends or family members that have also gone through the process? Are you’re--would you say that your closest friends--?
VLM: I actually so--my best friend she also did DACA as well, and I think our journeys have been very different, especially because of our educational journeys. But she also has DACA and I think the first thing that I always think of is just the driving and being able to drive. It’s really easy. Recently we just submitted the application for my brother, so hopefully we’ll be getting good news soon. But yeah he--he’s really excited too because he’s going to get to drive, because up until now we were like no you’re not driving. But so he’s excited about that as well.
FR: So, individuals who are granted this status, like you said--it’s a--like it’s legal for them to work. Do you work with it? Have you had--()? [Laughter] Yeah I guess do you work and if so can you explain?
VLM: Yeah. I’ve been—I’ve had opportunity to work like small jobs here and there with, especially within the school. I know like for example I worked with a professor just translating a lot of terms for a project research project that she was doing. I currently again work with an organization that does recruitment on campus, and I think the only reasons is because I have the employer’s permit. A lot of times I’ve--I’ve also experienced that people don’t really understand what it means. Like I show them my card that has the deferred action--or not deferred action but like my employment card. Or like I tell them oh I’m a DACA recipient, and they look at me very confused. Because I think especially within--one because--I mean it’s not even North Carolina but I guess of the institution I’m in perhaps, not a lot of students are in the same situation as me. We’re in a very big campus and I think I know like ten people and that’s all. So people often don’t really know how to help us navigate the system because they’ve never encountered someone in our situation, which that has been interesting because--sometimes I don’t even know. I’m like you’re supposed to know, I don’t know how to do this financial thing and stuff. But a lot of people are like learn as we go, so we learn together as they’re helping me navigate the systems of like how are we going to put you in the payroll because you don’t fit any of this things? Or like you fit this but you don’t fit this so how are we going to make this work? So I think that has been interesting also, just navigating those systems.
FR: Cool. So also in the first interview, you mentioned that you would love to travel abroad. Have you traveled outside--have you been able to leave the country under DACA?
VLM: So the hope is [Laughter] that soon I will. So up to now I have not. That’s definitely something that’s been on my mind. That’s something I’ve been wanting to do. [00:21:09] But so with DACA there’s only three different reasons of why you can travel abroad with DACA: under educational purposes; for employers or for your job; or for humanitarian reasons. Usually a lot of people that travel abroad it is for humanitarian reasons, because it’s a lot more flexible. But up to this point, I personally haven’t came across a reason of why I’ve had to travel because of humanitarian reasons. So right now I’m actually in a course where for during our spring break we would travel to Mexico. So I’m definitely excited because that was kind of like the opportunity. I really felt--I’m a senior right now so I really felt like that wasn’t going to happen anymore, which I had kind of given up on the idea of studying abroad per say during school. But it was really cool that I was able to be involved in this class this course and have now that opportunity. I submitted my paperwork about a month and a half ago, maybe two months. And unfortunately I have not heard back from immigration yet, which is definitely making me stressful [Laughter]. Because without the permit I can’t leave the country, and our break is really close to this date. And I’ve called and essentially all they say is you just have to wait, like you just have to wait and wait, and I’m just like I’m running out of time like I really want to know. So it’s been really frustrating I think navigating that, because it’s just money that’s being invested and time is going, and I still don’t have an answer. And essentially the deadline that they have to respond to my request is March eight, and I think we’re supposed to leave March eleventh. So if I don’t hear back by the deadline that they have, I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do within those days. So that’s definitely something that’s adding some stress into my life right, because it’s just like I said so much uncertainty.
FR: That’s a wow--that’s a tough situation. So as a whole, what emotions would you say that you associate with DACA? Does it make you--like if you hear that, do you feel--what do you feel? Was the first thing that comes to your mind the stress? Or maybe the relief that you can drive? Or like maybe a mixture of both [Laughter]? What you would you say? How would you describe it?
VLM: I think I definitely have a love-hate relationship. I think of all the benefits that I’ve had now. And I’m very thankful--like I’m very thankful for those. Now also I’ve mentioned like I’ve realized my life would be very different and my opportunities would be very different if I didn’t have DACA. [00:24:15] But I think there’s also a lot of moments where I have been frustrated because I feel--I feel this is like the government putting a Band-Aid on a bigger issue instead of actually finding a solution for the issue if that makes any sense. I--like I said I think the DREAMer movement, we were trying to push for a change, like for a real change. And even though I understand the politics, there’s tons of politics behind it, but it was just kind of like let me throw this at you so you can be quiet and calm down and say that we gave you something. So I think I get hose feelings as well. So even though I realize how much it has benefited me, I also feel like it’s not enough, and I don’t want to settle at a point that I’m just thinking about the good things about it, and thinking of like oh I’m so lucky and I’m so--like I’m so glad that the government did this for us, because at the same time--I don’t know--people may not agree, but I feel like I also deserve--like I know when I entered this country it was not through a legal means, but it wasn’t my decision. And I think that just is like other even citizens I don’t they would be punished--the children would not be punished for something their parents did. Like if a parent goes and kills someone, you’re not going to put their children in jail. And I feel like a lot of times that’s how they do to us, because I came in when I was nine years old. I couldn’t tell my mom no mom I’m not going with you. You go to the United States with my dad, like what am I going to do? I’m going to go with my mom because I wanted to see my dad. So I just feel like sometimes I’m punished, and a lot of us are punished for something that we didn’t choose. And people ask me like where are you from? Or like where is home for you? I think Durham, North Carolina! I don’t think Mexico. So it just doesn’t make sense to me. And I think sometimes DACA--like I’m grateful for it but I don’t want to settle. In my license for example--[00:26:28] on the license there’s a line that says no legal status in red letters. And every time that I give it, whether this is like I’m going out with my friends and they ask me for my I.D.--when I give it to people, I always get that feeling of like what are they going to think? Or like, what is going through their head right now? They’re probably doubt--like wondering why does it have those red letters. And they’re probably not going to ask me, but that’s something that they’re thinking, and it makes me very self-conscious. And I think like you know, most people probably don’t have to worry about that. But that’s real, when I go to someone and give them my I.D. it makes me anxious because I’m just like I don’t know. Maybe they’re going to be like oh that’s fake. Why does have those letters--? I don’t know. But I think yeah, so I have mixed emotions about it. I think it could be better [Laughter].
FR: That was a great answer. So I guess I’ll--this might be our last question but--so you know, we are in the midst of a presidential campaign for this country, and--[00:27:37] some of the candidates just outright stated that they--if they’re elected president, day one, they will get rid of the program. How would that affect you? What happens if it just goes away?
VLM: You know that’s something I wonder. I think for example, like I wonder with like with my car, my dad’s car. What’s going to happen there? Will they take the license plates because I don’t have a license? Or maybe if I have to renew or like I can’t do that anymore? I think that’s the first thing that comes to my mind, and then also for me for example I have a job offer for after graduation, but it’s because of DACA. So if I don’t have DACA then I don’t have a job, which is definitely--I don’t know--it’s frustrating because there’s so much uncertainty like how am I going to plan for that [Laughter]? Because I don’t know. And then I think internally I also think of--if they take away the program, what is immigration going to do with all of those names and all of those addresses and all of that people? I think I would definitely live in fear of me and my family of one day them knocking the door. And, like how can you deny if they have any paperwork? Like I’m stating that I don’t--I’m not--I don’t have any legal status, you know? So yeah it would definitely be very scary, it would be very scary if that was the case.
FR: Yeah. So would you say that you think--do you think about the future a lot? Or do you find yourself--do you find yourself stressing out about all of those things? Or do you feel like you’re able to go day to day and just not--and are you able--how much do you think about the future and that kind of thing?
VLM: I think I’ve almost this mechanism of like I’m just going to ignore it for now, because if I think about it too much, it really stresses me out. It really makes me almost anxious about it. I’m really hopeful that this country would not want the leadership of individuals that have so much hate and--. It has blown my mind to see how many people support some ideas. Like I’m just blown away at how far some of those candidates have made it. I mean it’s scary because I’m like people supported that [Laughter]. But yeah I think I just try to avoid to think about it now. Obviously I follow, try to follow the news and see how things are going, but I’m like I’m going to try not to worry about it. I think also--I also think of the people and the power that there is within people. And I think if something like that was to go away, I think there would be major movement in the country and people would push. And so I think that also just keeps me--keeps me want to go on--like you know it’s ok it’s going to be fine. Like worst comes to worst we’re going to make things happen. So I think I see hope there [Laughter].
FR: That’s awesome. Do you have anything else that you want to add?
VLM: No, I think we’re good. [Laughter]
FR: Awesome. Alright, well thanks so much for doing this interview.
VLM: No problem, thank you.