When Ana Campa Castillo, 26, received a call from the office of U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, inviting her to be his guest at the State of the Union address, she was kind of surprised.
“I asked ‘Why me?’” Castillo said. “‘Why was I chosen?’”
Castillo was at a panel discussion about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September with the congressman. She was on the panel to discuss her experiences as a DACA recipient, which means she was brought to the U.S. as an unauthorized immigrant when she was a child. In her case she was 6 years old.
Foster’s office told Castillo her story could show why DACA recipients should be granted legal status now that President Donald Trump ended the program back in September. Castillo is a student at Joliet Junior College, a 2009 graduate of Bolingbrook High School, a wife and mother to two boys, and has worked as a community activist for immigrants and refugees with the Southwest Suburban Project in Bolingbrook and the Spanish Community Center in Joliet.
“I’m proud of the thousands of DREAMers who have come forward to share their stories,” Foster said in a news release. “The work that Ana has done is just one of the examples of great contributions these young people make to our society. In my district, Ana is a shining example of the American dream.”
Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children are referred to as DREAMers in reference to a bill known as the DREAM Act, which would grant them legal status, although the bill has never been passed by Congress.
Castillo first applied for DACA in 2012 when it was established by the Obama administration. She was able to get a two-year work permit and a driver’s license for the first time. Now her ability to pursue her dreams is up for debate in Washington as Congress is trying to reach a deal on granting legal status for her and over 700,000 other DACA recipients.
“It’s very overwhelming what’s happening right now with the uncertainty,” she said.
The DACA program gave Castillo the opportunity to work and go to school. She wanted to be able to help her mother after her parents separated, so she’s been working since she was 15 years old. Now she’s preparing to graduate from JJC in May with an associate degree in psychology.
Her new legal status also allowed her to travel outside of the country. A couple of years ago, she visited Mexico City, where her parents are from. That was when she realized why they left for the U.S. There was no job security and they lived in a one-room house that didn’t have running water.
“I understood walking down those streets that there was really no future for my parents there,” she said. “So they left everything they knew to get a better chance.”
Castillo now is committed to advocating for immigrant and refugee rights. She eventually wants to become a community psychologist focusing on families and providing mental health services to underserved communities. DACA has given her that opportunity to pursue her career and serve her community, which to her is a home worth fighting for.
“We have a voice and we have to be heard,” Castillo said. “We call this place our home. There’s nothing to go back to, to be honest.”
The State of the Union address is Tuesday night.