Rescinding DACA Crushes Dreams of Some Credit Union Employees
Karina Ortiz and Jenny Soto work together as part-time tellers at the Perry, Iowa branch of The Family Credit Union.
They’re both 22. They’ve been friends since fourth grade. They’re both Dreamers: Born outside the United States, they are among the 800,000 young people who were born outside of the United States and given temporary protection from deportation under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012.
On Sept. 5, they felt their dreams being crushed when President Donald Trump signed another executive order rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Ortiz has a younger sister who is a citizen because she was born in the United States. After Trump rescinded DACA, she asked her older sister whether she was going to be deported.
“She told me, ‘I don't want you to get deported.’ She started crying, and she made me cry a little bit because she was scared, just as I was,” she said. “I told her, ‘It's God's plan. Don't worry about it.’”
Diana Olivas Flores, a loan officer at Veridian Credit Union of Waterloo, Iowa ($2.9 billion in assets, 211,389 members), said she was surprised last year when she realized many of her acquaintances supported Trump.
“I don't go around sharing, ‘Hey, I’m a Dreamer,’ but if they ask me about it, I’m proud to say, ‘Yes, I am a Dreamer.’ But most of them do not know that people like myself are part of the 800,000 that this decision is affecting,” Flores said.
Many credit unions have made explicit efforts to help undocumented immigrants with loans that could be secured without an immigration status. And under DACA, they could hire young people who had been approved for the program, which required reapplications and screenings every two years to ensure none had committed felonies.
It's well they do. The U.S. Hispanic population was 57.5 million in 2016, or 17.8% of the population and constituting the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority. Hispanics accounted for half of the nation's overall population growth of 2.2 million from 2015 to 2016.
About half of Hispanic households are unbanked or underbanked, and credit unions have not faltered in their commitment to serve them, even under the more hostile environment now prevailing, said Miriam De Dios Woodward, CEO of Coopera, a Des Moine, Iowa-based consulting company.
“If anything, over the last year when there has been heightened attention about our immigrant population in the U.S., credit unions have been coming to us to ask, ‘What can we do with our community to let them know nothing has changed with us, that we’re still welcoming?’”
The answer, Woodward said, is that credit unions should reach out to their community partners to let them know that their commitment to the Hispanic community has not waned, and remind them of the resources and services they offer.
“They can use op-eds and other public forums to speak out in support of the Hispanic and immigrant communities,” she said. “And, if they so choose, there are opportunities to reach out to Congress on the subject of DACA.”
President Trump's rescinding of DACA, signed by President Obama in 2012, has led to panic for some credit union employees.
Ortiz was born in Usulután, the fifth largest city in El Salvador, but her memories of her home country are dim. Her parents immigrated to the United States when she was young. Her mother moved to Perry, Iowa to work in a Tyson poultry plant and sent money back to El Salvador for Ortiz’ clothes and school.
When Ortiz was eight years old, her relatives arranged for her to be smuggled into the United States. Although many people have died trying to cross the border, Ortiz remembers no sense of danger and little hardship.
She was enrolled in the fourth grade at a local public school. Ortiz spoke no English at the time, but was befriended by Soto, a bilingual veteran and expert in all matters American.
Soto was born in Mexico. Her mother carried her to Iowa when she was eight months old to reunite the family. Her father had immigrated after Soto's mom became pregnant to be better able to provide for the family. His brothers were already in the United States and connected him with a job.
Soto has no memories of Mexico. As far as she is concerned, “I’ve been here my whole life.”
After Ortiz graduated, she took a job cleaning hotel rooms. A manager at The Family Credit Union ($154.8 million in assets, 18,278 members) suggested she apply for a job as a teller. Ortiz took a test, and was hired three years ago at the Perry branch – about 200 miles west of the credit union's Davenport headquarters and about 40 miles northwest of Des Moines.
“I’m really happy with the people I’ve been working with. They’re very friendly. It's a very nice environment. I’m very blessed to be where I’m at,” Ortiz said.
A year ago, Soto came on board as a teller through other connections. They both work part-time, 20 to 25 hours per week.
Ortiz, Soto and Flores remember vividly when DACA was signed.
Ortiz said it took until her junior year in high school for her to face the reality she would need some kind of documentation of her immigration status to go to college.
“I was very frustrated. I had so many dreams. I wanted to become someone. I wanted to make my parents proud. I wanted to make myself proud,” she said.
She recalled going to church in her senior year and “praying to God to give me something to hold onto.” On a Friday afternoon a few weeks later, Obama announced DACA.
Republicans had abandoned their past support for legislation that would have provided more permanent relief for young immigrants. To bridge that impasse, Obama walked out to a podium in the Rose Garden on June 15, 2012, to announce he was signing an executive order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“These are young people who study in our schools. They play in our neighborhoods. They’re friends with our kids. They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every way in every single way but one: On paper,” Obama said.
Ortiz and Soto were both seniors at the same high school at the time.
“I just started crying with joy,” Ortiz said. “It was a blessing to hear something like that coming from the president.”
Soto thought about possibilities from a driver's license to beyond. “I felt like I was getting a universal key to open any door I wanted. I felt like I was finally someone in this country, and was getting the privileges everyone else had.”
For Flores, Obama's executive order meant she could move from a job as a receptionist to become a teller at Veridian, where she could use her business education.
“I couldn't believe it. It was the opportunity we were waiting for,” she said. “I called my mom, and wanted her to turn on the TV and ask her, ‘Is this really happening?’”
Flores, 28, was born in Parral, a small town about 370 miles south of El Paso, Texas, in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. She was nine years old when the family moved from Mexico to Shenandoah, a small town in Iowa's rural southwest corner known as the “seed and nursery center of the world.”
Her father had been an accountant in Mexico, but suffered a business reversal. He and his oldest son, who was a semester from earning an accounting degree, went to work on an egg farm. Her parents had two other children, both girls. At the time, she remembers only about 20 to 30 Hispanics living in Shenandoah.
She remembers being taunted as being an “illegal alien.”
“They didn't know I was; I myself didn't know I was,” she said.
She was shielded from many hurtful remarks because she didn't speak English. She had a friend who spoke both Spanish and English, and when she would ask what others had said, her friend would say, “Oh, forget about it.”
In 2007, Flores graduated at the top of her high school class with a 3.9 grade-point average and multiple scholarships. In 2009 she earned a two-year degree in marketing and finance from the AIB College of Business in Des Moines. Flores started working at Veridian in March 2013.
“I knew once I was here I could prove through my hard work I could do more,” she said.
A couple months later she was promoted to be a member service representative. She did that for about a year, before she was hired into the loan officer position she now holds, which pays about $50,000 a year.
She married another Dreamer. They own a home. They’re active in their church. They now have two kids: Valentina, who turns three in November, and Mateo, who turned five months old in September.
As Trump's campaign gained steam, Flores and her husband were buying a home, new cars and having their second child. “We thought we were set for all of those big changes in our life.”
Meanwhile, Trump had campaigned to repeal and replace Obamacare, renegotiate trade treaties, cut taxes for the middle class and “immediately terminate” President Obama's executive order deferring deportations of Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Of those, the promise he has kept so far was the one that needed only his own hand and a pen.
Flores didn't expect Trump to win. When he did, she didn't expect him to rescind DACA. Before the announcement, Flores told her manager that she would need to take a few minutes in private to hear the news.
“I had a breakdown emotionally,” Flores said. “I felt a fear that I hadn't ever felt before, something I assume undocumented immigrants feel every day. It's sad that we – who contribute so much to this community, to this state, to this country – have to feel this way. It's a selfish decision. He has the fate of so many talented young people at his hands, and he's not willing to give us a chance to prove that we are Americans.”
Ortiz recalled walking down the hall at her college after Trump was elected last November. She encountered three young women and two young men. She was the only Hispanic in sight. One young man said, “Hey, get ready to get deported. You’re about to go home.”
“Instead of getting mad, or yell at them, I just walked away,” she said. “It doesn't really surprise me now, because of how Trump has said many things, like, ‘Throw all the immigrants away.’ It's not even me getting angry anymore. It's me getting sad and hurtful to see what this country is now.”
She added, “Instead of being united more than ever, we’re more separated than ever. We should be more compassionate toward one another.”