“When I first came to New York, I absolutely hated it,” Wendy recalls feeling at 9 years old, when she moved to the city with her mother from Trinidad. “I wanted to go home the same day I came.” They moved to South Ozone Park with her father, who Wendy had not seen since she was 2 years old, when he left Trinidad in search of a better job in the United States. Wendy’s feelings about moving to the U.S. quickly changed, however, once she enrolled in school and made friends with her classmates. South Ozone Park, a quiet neighborhood in southeast Queens where most of her neighbors shared her West Indian culture, soon felt like home.
While growing up in South Ozone Park made Wendy feel at home in the United States, her undocumented status prevented her from taking advantage of many of the opportunities available to her peers. During her time at August Martin High School in Jamaica, for instance, Wendy spent nearly 20 hours in the air, learning to fly a four-seat airplane. However, when she had enough training to fly a plane on her own and earn a pilot license, the Federal Aviation Administration refused her because she lacked legal immigration status. “It was devastating because I had put in a lot of time and effort into learning how to fly an airplane,” Wendy remembers.
In June 2012, when President Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—a policy that grants renewable two-year deferrals on deportation proceedings and work permits to eligible undocumented youth—Wendy was hesitant to apply. If something went wrong, “I might be on the first flight back home to Trinidad,” she worried. But she was finally convinced by a close friend, who encouraged her to apply after he successfully received DACA.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I made an appointment with Catholic Migration,” Wendy recalls of her first visit to CMS’s Sunnyside office this February. But she was pleasantly surprised that her immigration counselor, Corrylee, not only guided her through the application process, but submitted the application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on her behalf. “It was a wonderful experience,” Wendy says. “Corrylee was a great help.”
Wendy, now 24, still lives in South Ozone Park. “DACA has gotten me really excited for the future,” she explains. She looks forward to going back to school for a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and a master’s degree in business. Ultimately, Wendy dreams of opening her own flight school with two of her closest friends: “We have everything planned out, all we’re waiting on is ME.” With the work permit she will receive from DACA, she can obtain a Social Security Number that will enable her to build credit and eventually purchase a home. “Slowly but surely, I will make these dreams a reality.”
Updated April 2013