Rhode Island DREAMers tell their stories

“You are the face of this policy,” said Representative Shelby Maldonado to the five young DREAMers gathered around a table in the Central Falls High School. “This policy is to ensure that you can continue to renew your driver’s licenses and renew your work authorization permits here in Rhode Island.”

Darling Melgar

The policy is first of its kind legislation, H7982, introduced by Maldonado (Democrat, District 56, Central Falls) in March. The intention is to, “provide continued employability and drivers licenses to DACA recipients, even those whose status has otherwise expired due to current federal policies.” The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Representatives Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence), Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence), Blake Filippi (Republican, District 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly), and Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick).

The bill will be heard in House Judiciary on Tuesday, April 3, in room 101 of the Rhode Island State House around 4:30pm. You can read more about the legislation here.

Also seated at the table with the DREAMers was Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo.

“Let’s pass it,” said Raimondo about Maldonado’s legislation. “If the president’s not going to do the right thing, let’s do the right thing in Rhode Island. We have the power to pass this legislation and make Rhode Island a place of inclusivity and humanity and diversity and public safety. It’s the right thing to do.


Darling Melgar was brought to the United States from Guatemala at the age of six. “Having DACA, having that security, knowing that I can help my parents out with my job, my work permit,” said Melgar. “I got my driver’s license, I bought my own car with the hard work, DACA really helps out.

“I don’t have financial aid, even with DACA. I had to work two part time jobs to pay for college,” continued Melgar. “I worked, I went to school, I at least took two classes, you know? I paid for it out of my pocket. I worked twice as hard to get where I want to be.”.

Emely Landero was brought to the United States at the age of three, from Belize.

Emely Landero

“I grew up in Central Falls. I graduated [high school] in June 2017. I’m 18 right now, attending Year Up…”

[Year Up Providence “is a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults, ages 18-24, with a combination of hands-on skills development, coursework eligible for college credit, corporate internships, and wraparound support.”]

“The last couple months [of high school] were kind of the hardest, where I really knew what DACA meant for me,” said Landero. While the rest off her peers were getting driver’s licenses and celebrating being accepted to college, Landero found herself, “making up these lame excuses” for why she didn’t have a license yet. “But my reality was that I couldn’t.”

A license is “just a piece of plastic,” said Landero, “but it’s really not, to somebody like me. To me getting my license was like, you know, one step closer to living this American Dream that everybody wants to live.”

“No one has a choice about the circumstances they were born into,” said Landero later on. “We didn’t choose this. I know for me, coming here, I didn’t even understand what was going on for the most part.

“We didn’t choose the circumstances which we were born into but I think it’s time that people understand that we are choosing how far we are going to let those circumstances hold us back.”

Sergio Perez was born in Guatemala in 1997.

Sergio Perez

“A lot of people know that crossing the border is difficult,” said Perez. “I fell in the river. I was one and a half. I was like a drowning baby in a river that was in the middle of nowhere. My dad pulled me out and from there on we kept traveling.”

Perez’s parents wanted him to go to the college of his choice, but there was uncertainty. “How are we going to pay for him to go there? It’s too expensive.”

Perez decided on Rhode Island College. He thought he’d get a part-time job and some FASA money. “When I got the call that ‘Hey, there’s something wrong with your FASA, would you mind coming to the financial aid office at Rhode Island College?’ I go there, and they explain to me why, because of my status, I’m not able to get any financial aid. That put me in a spiraling depression.

“I worked so hard to get this education, to get to where I’m at, just to be told that, you know, you might not be able to continue your path…”

But Perez’s mother told him, “Ponte las pilas!” which means “Put your batteries on.”

“Every Spanish home hears that so many times,” said Perez. “I decided that this isn’t the end of it. I have to find another path. I have to go look for a job… I worked three days a week, each of them were 12 hour shifts. I went to Rhode Island College for two years, paid all of it off.

“I work hard so that I can better my life, but also my parents’ life and my sister’s life,” said Perez.

Monica Socop was born in Guatemala. Her mother left for the United States when she was one, her father when she was three.

Monica Socop

“I grew up with my uncle and my aunt and my cousins. I would talk to my parents every once in a while, but they were people that I didn’t even know. They were just somebody that I talked to on the phone.” Socop and her siblings came to the United States when she was nine-years old. “That’s when I first met my parents.”

“When I was leaving Guatemala I didn’t know exactly what that meant,” continued Socop. “I didn’t know I wasn’t going to go back and not see my family since then. Til today I still haven’t seen them.

“Coming to the United States and meeting my parents for the first time, it had an impact. I didn’t know my parents. It made me grow up not knowing why I was here, not knowing why I had this dramatic change in my life.

“As I was growing up I always knew that I was different,” continued Socop. “I didn’t have the same things that other kids that I saw had. Going to school, I knew that all the efforts that I put in were not going to go anywhere because I was not going to be able to attend college. I knew that after high school I had to go into working, into whatever was open to me. Whatever it was that I could work, whatever it was that I could help my family, I had to do it.

“When DACA was introduced I was very hopeful… All my efforts were finally going to pay off… So having DACA, it made me have hope.”

Maldonado’s bill, said Socop, “would mean the world” to her.

Rodrigo Pimentel was brought to United States at the age of ten months, from Portugal.

Pimentel applied for DACA at the age of 16. “What that meant for me was that I no longer had to worry about whether I could work, or go to college or contribute to my family’s small business. All of these things were a concern prior to DACA… DACA provided that certainty that I needed to continue on with my life.

“But unfortunately, the current administration has ended DACA. And what that means is that eventually my permit will expire. That certainty will come to an end. And I won’t be able to drive or contribute to this state. What Representative Maldonado’s bill does is it provides a certainty that DREAMers need in this time of uncertainty.”

Later, Pimentel noted the financial contributions DREAMers make to the United States.

Here’s the rest of the video:

Rodrigo Pimentel
Frank Ciccone
Shelby Maldonado, right
Gina Raimondo

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About Steve Ahlquist 483 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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