Naomi Carranza and Mariana Flores are sitting at a kitchen table while Flores’ five sons run around the room playing. While the youngest boy tugs his mom’s shirtsleeve, Carranza says that she thinks of the boys as her own kids.
The two women met less than a year ago and are nine years apart in age, but they act as though they have known each other forever. They tease each other like sisters and often finish each other’s sentences. They can share knowing glances from across a room.
Since meeting last November, the friends have spent a lot of time together. They play on the same team in a community basketball league and attend local rallies calling for immigration reform. At the rallies, organized by the local advocacy group Latinos en Axion, they stand in front of crowds to share their personal stories about immigration.
And their life stories share a lot of similarities.
Carranza, a 19-year-old college student, and Flores, a 30-year-old mother, came to the United States from Mexico with their parents when they were 9 years old. Their fathers were accountants in Mexico who temporarily left their families behind to seek better lives for them in the Midwest.
Flores and Carranza also share a similar memory: After years apart from their dads, their mothers one day announced they would be going to meet their fathers in the United States.
That’s where they grew up — Carranza in St. Louis and Flores in Minneapolis. Now they both live in St. Louis, where they stay active in the fight for immigration reform as they wait, together, for something very important that rests in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans — often called DAPA — is an executive order that would allow undocumented parents of U.S. citizens to apply for deportation relief and work authorization permits. Its partner legislation, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – known as DACA – is already in effect for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and meet certain requirements.
The biggest difference between Carranza and Flores is that Carranza has DACA status. Flores does not.
Because of DACA, Carranza has been able to enroll at St. Louis Community College and start working toward her degree. DAPA would allow Flores to apply for work authorization and ease her fears of being deported. Her children are all U.S. citizens.
But in June, the Supreme Court deadlocked in a decision on whether to uphold or strike down an injunction against the expansion of DACA and implementation of DAPA.
After the 4-4 vote, President Barack Obama asked the Supreme Court to hear the DACA/DAPA case again once a ninth justice is seated.
Until then, Carranza and Flores and families like theirs will wait.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Liz Schlemmer and Carolina Hidalgo sat down with the two women to talk about their friendship, their families and their everyday lives. We've edited their comments for length and clarity.
Flores: Just from the get-go, we kind of clicked. And it was weird, because you're so young. And I'm not that young.
I was brought at age 9, too and, although we're a lot of years in age difference, that's one thing that made me connect with [you.]
Carranza's enrollment in DACA is the biggest difference between them. Flores thought about applying but was told she doesn't qualify because she traveled to Mexico from the U.S. after the birth of her first son. She hopes DAPA will pass so she might qualify for documents as a parent.
Flores spoke about what living without documents means for her.
Flores: Well, it means that if I get pulled over, I have no driver's license and that's enough for you to be detained and immigration gets called ... And, goodbye United States. For me, not having DACA or DAPA means being scared every single day, yet I have to hide it from my kids. And that's what it means. What does it mean for you (Naomi) to have DACA?
Carranza: DACA is a relief from being undocumented. The most, most important thing that you can get out of DACA is going to school, but also the relief from deportation. When I did not have a documented status, I was always scared, just like you. Like I was scared to even walk around my house. Now I see myself as very privileged. I'm going to college. I was able to get a Social Security number. I have a worker's permit. And obviously with the worker's permit and the Social Security, I'm able to get a license, so I'm able to do a lot of things.
A Social Security number is necessary for work authorization in the United States. Not having one has held Flores back from her dreams.
Flores: When I was younger, I was asked, 'So what do you want to do when you grow up?' And I said, 'I want to have a beauty spa.' So I want to get a massage therapist's license and a cosmetology license. I want to go to school for that, those are my hopes.
Flores once tried to apply for cosmetology school. She filled out an application, and when it came to the space for her Social Security number, she left it blank. She hoped no one would notice. Her application was rejected.
Carranza, who has DACA status, is going to school at the Meramec campus of St. Louis Community College. She wants to be a nurse or a lawyer. But her first response when we asked about her hopes was that she has too many to name.
Carranza: But one of them is just to be happy and feel like I'm safe and that I'm not scared to be ripped away from those that I love. And for me ... my parents run that risk. And every day that my dad gets up, and I wait every night, sleeping on his side of the bed with my mom for him to get home. I may be privileged but I still live with that fear. But I know, that maybe your fears, may be as mine, like the same as mine, but what are yours exactly?
Flores: I guess, I'm on the other side. I'm wearing the other shoe. You're afraid of the people you love being taken away, and I'm afraid that I might be taken away from the people I love. In this case, my children. They are U.S. citizens, so they have no need to be deported. They have no need to go to Mexico ... So I'm afraid of that. I'm afraid that one day, I'm going to wake up, and I have to go grocery shopping, and I'm going to do a bad turn or forget to turn on my signal light and, maybe the officer is in a bad mood, or maybe I'm on the wrong side of the neighborhood, and they just decide that I either have to be detained or deported. I'm afraid of that, of not being able to come home and hug my kids. And every day I leave and I step out of this house, just the fear that I might not come back.
Carranza: So, you know how important it is for us to know that we’re human beings. The way that people have used the language of aliens and illegals — undocumented I think, for me, is the most comfortable way to speak about myself if I want to talk about this, but for all those people that think of us as different, what would you like them to know about us?
Flores: What I want them to know, I would say, is cut me open and cut yourself open. We have the same exact things under our color of skin. What I want them to know is just that me and you, we were brought here when we were 9. Decisions were made for us. And we grew up here. This became our home. I just want to live the normal life, like what my neighbor next door is doing.
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @liz_schlemmer
Follow Carolina on Twitter: @carolinahidalgo