“My name is Marco Perez. I am undocumented and unafraid,” he said.
Unafraid. It has taken Marco a long time to openly say that he’s undocumented. He grew up in Los Angeles, but always knew he was brought to the United States as a child without proper documentation.
He said he has felt like an outsider his whole life. His biggest fear: deportation to Mexico, a country he doesn’t know.
At his high school in Boyle Heights, just east of downtown L.A., Marco is part of the “Dreamers Club.” It’s a peer support group for students like him.
“In my sophomore year, I joined the Dreamers Club," he said. "I had other students, other peers, who were undocumented like me. Because it wasn’t like everybody in my high school was like, ‘Oh, I’m undocumented.’ No, they would keep it a secret."
After a year in the club, Marco grew tired of living in fear and wanted to be proud of who he was. So, he did something that more and more undocumented students are willing to do.
“Last year I participated in a civil disobedience to protest against Lee Baca and his unlawful deportations, but most importantly I did it for myself. I thought that I needed the motivation, that courage,” he said.
Marco believed his protest against L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was one way to free himself from the fears and shame he carried throughout his life. But with this courage came uncertainty. He was one of five undocumented students arrested that day.
Because he came here as a child, he qualifies for deferred action. The 2012 program allows young people like him to work here -- and be protected from deportation -- for two years. But his arrest threatened that.
“It made me just a little bit afraid that the one opportunity that has been given to me, possibly citizenship or even deferred action, might be taken away,” he said.
One afternoon, anxious to move forward with his deferred action application, Marco called a lawyer in search of a clear answer: Was his record affected by the civil disobedience?
The lawyer wasn’t able to answer the question that was eating away at Marco. But he and his mother continued with his deferred action application anyway.
During a car ride through Boyle Heights, his mother told him all they could do at this point was wait and see if it would be God’s will to make it happen.
“With this, it’s going to happen?” Marco asked.
“Yeah, that’s all, son. You just need to drop it in the mail, God willing,” his mother said in Spanish.
Marco struggles to speak Spanish but does so at home because his parents are learning English. His mother always reminds him to stay out of trouble and be on alert because of his status. She’s scared about the future. He’s scared, too.
“If I work hard here and get my Ph.D., get in a situation and they somehow deport me, all my hard work would be for nothing," he said.
Even something as simple as sneaking under a fence at a middle school field to play soccer with his friends has him on edge.
“And I would just end up in a country where I can’t really speak the language and I would just have to start over again,” he said. “It’s a very scary situation.”
During a geometry tutoring session, one of his friends expressed concerns about college. He and his friends discussed college application deadlines. His friend had recently been rejected by his top choice and he was not sure about the other colleges he was considering. Marco said he was equally scared. As a peer counselor, he often checks in to make sure his friends aren’t falling behind.
“I’m looking forward to going to graduation, going to college," he said. "I wanna cling to the hope that I have that I can become a citizen in the United States. Because I just want to live like a normal life. Stop being afraid. Stop being embarrassed.”
Marco’s still waiting to hear back about his deferred action application. He has decided on Cal State Los Angeles because he received a partial scholarship to go there. But he remains anxious, wondering if deportation looms around the corner.