Shortly after President Trump announced Tuesday that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program over six months, 18-year-old Wyoming resident and DACA recipient Jicell Gracia-Ortiz decided to vent her frustration online. The resulting Facebook post quickly went viral.
There are more than 600 DACA recipients in Wyoming, according to Department of Homeland Security data cited by the organization Interfaith Worker Justice. They all have a story, Gracia-Ortiz said, and she wanted to share hers.
She wanted to make people understand the uncertainty she now faces, she said, and humanize the debate over DACA and immigration. Many who knew her did not previously realize that she had come to the country illegally, she said.
“I don’t want to say that I have a lot of anger towards people, but I have frustration for those that don’t understand what it’s like to be in this position,” she told WyoFile in a phone interview. As of Thursday afternoon, two days after she published it, her post had been shared more than 1,700 times. It had spread well beyond Gracia-Ortiz’s personal network. Her own post had 242 comments.
Gracia-Ortiz began the post with a nod toward the language often used by President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and other hard-line immigration policy advocates.
“Dear #America,” she wrote, “I apologize for breaking the law when I was merely three years old. I apologize for stealing an American citizen’s job, and I apologize for supposedly costing tax payers money for attending school and going to college.”
“I didn’t ask my mother at three years old to take me into an unknown country,” she wrote. “I didn’t ask to be an undocumented person. I didn’t ask her to leave her family behind, so she could give me a better life. I didn’t ask her to break the law.”
Particularly frustrating to Gracia-Ortiz, she told WyoFile, are the notions that immigrants were “freeloaders,” benefitting off the taxes paid by others, and the refrain that she, and her parents, should just become citizens. “It doesn’t work that way,” she said. The citizenship process can take years and many who crossed the border illegally, often out of concerns for safety or economic desperation, fear that approaching officialdom could lead to deportation, not documentation.
For Gracia-Ortiz, DACA offered an opportunity to begin that process safely, and so she took it, she said.
“The reality is that I AM a tax payer as well,” she wrote in her post. “I pay into Social Security from my paycheck, however, I will never see a penny of it. My biweekly paychecks this summer would be of $50-$70 dollars because I was a server. I earned $2.75/hr, and we were almost always hiring. So whose job did I take?”
“I’m not eligible for Medicaid and I was never eligible for ‘Obamacare,’” she wrote.
Today, Gracia-Ortiz studies nursing at Central Wyoming College. Wyoming has a shortage of nurses, and the problem is predicted to get worse because of the state’s aging population, according to recent reporting in the Casper Star-Tribune.
Unable to apply for federal student-aid programs, Gracia-Ortiz received two state scholarships to attend CWC, she said. One was for her high ACT scores. The rest of her college costs she and her parents are paying out of pocket.
Most comments on her Facebook post were encouraging, supportive of Gracia-Ortiz. Some were not. “Can’t feel sorry for the whole f—ing world!” one poster commented. “Time to take care of Americans before there’s no Americans to take care of.”
Gracia-Ortiz said she doesn’t know any of the people who wrote negative comments. “I felt like I was gonna get a lot of judgement,” she said, “and I did.”
A few commenters identified with Gracia-Ortiz’s predicament while also expressing worries about broader immigration policy.
“I feel that strictly in a policy sense, we cannot allow benefits to people who were snuck into the country,” one woman wrote. “I feel as a simple person that you probably grew up here and are as much of an American and patriot as me. What can we do?”
Gracia-Ortiz grew up in Cheyenne, where she attended Cheyenne South High School. She played soccer, ran track and said she always knew she wanted to pursue a higher education. She has three siblings, all of whom were born in the United States and thus are citizens.
When she turned 15, the legal age to apply for DACA, she began the process. She submitted her application in November, she said, and the following August received paperwork allowing her to work legally, get a driver’s license and not fear deportation or arrest. “It gave me a lot of hope,” she said.
Gracia-Ortiz remains hopeful, this time that Congress can come up with a permanent solution for DACA recipients, as Trump has asked it to do. Her current work permit will last until the fall of next year, she said. Wyoming is the home Gracia-Ortiz knows, she said, and she has never been back to Mexico.
“I would feel lost,” she said, when asked what could happen if DACA was not fixed and she was forced to return to Mexico. “It’d be like being a tourist in a different country.”