Yeraldin Montiel doesn’t remember arriving in the United States as a child.
The 29-year-old Escondido resident said that when she came at age 8 with her sister and cousins, she slept through the border crossing. She didn’t know until her senior year of high school that she did not have legal status in the U.S.
In college, many of her friends studied abroad, she said, but she couldn’t because of her status.
“I remember telling myself, ‘One day I’m going to be able to do that,’” Montiel said. “‘I’m going to travel on my own outside of the country.’”
In the weeks leading up to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Montiel fulfilled that promise to herself, traveling to Mexico on a study abroad program for participants in former President Barack Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals program, or DACA.
The program allows certain unauthorized immigrants who arrived as children temporary relief from deportation for renewable two-year periods and gives them work permits. Obama instituted it with an executive order, and Trump promised on the campaign trail to shut it down.
In California, about 500,000 unauthorized immigrants are eligible for DACA, and they are commonly referred to as “dreamers.”
Armando Vazquez-Ramos, a California State University Long Beach professor, launched the dreamer travel program through his nonprofit, the California-Mexico Studies Center, after learning in 2014 that he could safely cross the border with deferred action students. Beneficiaries of Obama’s program have been eligible to apply for “advanced parole,” meaning they will be let back into the country if they leave, for educational or humanitarian reasons.