Alan Ledesma of Orem came to America from Mexico when he was 9. He says the hardest part was watching his sister sell all of her Barbies as they didn’t have space in the few suitcases to bring them along.
“It was the hardest thing, but it was also exciting because we were going to America,” Ledesma said. “When you are a little kid, everyone knows about the American dream, it is magic.”
He grew up in the Bronx of New York with his family. His father, who was once an English professor in their home country, worked as a furniture mover, a waiter and a shoe salesman without complaint in hopes to give his family a better life.
It wasn’t until he was preparing to go college that his immigration status really sunk in. Being in the United States illegally made Ledesma unable to receive financial aid to attend a university.
With a lot of donations and help from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ledesma was able to keep striving toward his dreams and attend Utah Valley University. His hope is to one day become a teacher like his father.
“I believe that education is the key to breaking down barriers and becoming a better society,” he said. “I want to teach in an inner city. I grew up in one. We were the ones left behind. I want to teach them history and tell them they still have a chance.”
Ledesma’s educational dreams hit a stumbling block shortly after when the money started running out and his father passed away of cancer in 2012. However, a beacon of light came through the same year when President Obama signed the executive order for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA.
DACA allows young people who were illegally brought to the country before the age of 16 to receive a temporary reprieve from deportation and to receive permission to work, study and obtain a driver’s license. They must maintain a clean criminal record to maintain their status.
Currently about 800,000 people are DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The term “Dreamer” is based on a 2001 legislative bill known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act. It has yet to be approved by Congress.
With the newfound beacon of hope, Ledesma decided he was going to work and pay for his college out of his own pocket. “I remember being with the lawyer and crying as I was filling out the paperwork (to become a DACA recipient).”
He has since worked many jobs to help pay for his education, though he is currently taking a semester off to work and be able to afford college in the spring. His hope is to graduate in 2019 from Utah Valley University, where his sister recently graduated from before moving back to New York and obtaining a job.
Last week, President Donald Trump announced that DACA will be ending in six months, allowing Congress the time to find a solution.
UVU President Matthew Holland recently signed a letter urging Utah’s congressional members to pursue a long-term solution to protect students like Ledesma who are covered under the DACA program.
Students also organized a march in support of their DACA classmates on Friday. Ledesma gave the closing remarks urging his fellow DACA to not lose hope and to do the right things, as this is not the first time they have dealt with adversity.
“I will still work so I can go to school and I will one day get a master’s degree and teach. I will not live in the shadows,” he said of the current immigration challenges. “I am a Dreamer, I have to dream.” Ledesma hopes to one day become a teacher and inspire youth, just as his father did.