As a 14 year old, Alex Martinez left the home in Mexico where he was being raised by his grandmother to join his mother in the United States.
“My mother made the hard decision to leave me so she could provide something more for me and my brother and my sister,” Martinez said. “And she made another hard decision to let her child go through a desert, a river, and another desert just so she could see me again.”
Martinez, now an organizer with the KS/MO DREAM Alliance, recounted his story as part of a forum on immigration reform at Colonial Church in Prairie Village Thursday that brought together dreamers, legal experts and advocates to discuss how current immigration policy is playing out in eastern Kansas communities.
The five-day journey that brought Martinez to the U.S. where he was reunited with his mother was illegal. But it wasn’t until age 17, as he started to fill out college applications, that he began to realize just what it meant to be undocumented.
“I was filling out the applications, and I would come to this place for a number and I couldn’t understand what to put in there,” he said. “The social security number. It’s such an American thing.”
When the Obama administration set up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, it afforded Martinez a path to becoming more involved in American society. He got a work permit, found a job, and began earning a legal wage and paying into social security and Medicare.
With the Trump administration’s move to revoke the Obama-era program, however, Martinez said that the security and stability that he and other dreamers have known for the past few years has evaporated.
“It’s pretty sad. It’s pretty cruel,” he said. “As a dreamer, I will ask you to stand with us. I will ask you to call your representative. I will ask you to get involved.”
Rick Behrens, a pastor from Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kan., spoke at the start of the forum, and credited people like Martinez with making DACA a reality.
“DACA would never have happened without their initiative,” he said. “These young people are the leaders, and we need to stand with them.”
Behrens, who has lived in eastern Kansas City, Kan., for his whole life, said he credits immigrants with revitalizing a community that was experiencing depopulation.
“Immigrants have save our neighborhood, saved our church,” he said. “Immigrants and refugees have repopulated our school district…The unsung heroes of the redevelopment of Wyandotte County are the 30,000 to 50,000 immigrants who have repopulated our community when a lot of white folks, for whatever reason, got up and left.”