Q&A with Minnesota Dreamer Danely Quiroz: ‘With a status, the sky is the limit.’

10 years on, no path to citizenship in sight.

By: - July 13, 2022 6:05 am

“I feel more than anything, I’m an example of what DACA can do,” said Danely Quiroz, pictured here, in a courtesy photo.

Danely Quiroz moved from Mexico to Minnesota with her family about 30 years ago when she was just 3 years old. Quiroz, who lives with her own family in Orono now, is the youngest of six siblings, and her parents immigrated in the hopes of providing their children better opportunities. 

Starting in her early 20s, Quiroz has been involved in immigration activism, participating in “Day Without Immigrants” demonstrations and advocating for legal status for immigrants like her who arrived when they were children and have lived almost their whole lives in the U.S.

Finally, 10 years ago, Quiroz and her siblings became eligible to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal policy enacted under President Barack Obama. Since then, Quiroz has been able to take her career into her own hands and apply for any job she wants and obtain a driver’s license. But she is not a citizen — and there remains no path to citizenship for DACA holders. That means Quiroz can’t vote or leave the country except for an emergency or educational or work purposes, and she must renew the status every two years. 

After a decade of DACA, Quiroz reflected on how it has changed her life, what it was like to live in the shadows without a legal status before, and what still needs to be done in Minnesota and nationally for immigrants like her to succeed. 

“I feel more than anything, I’m an example of what DACA can do,” she said. “We’re not all — like our past president put it — criminals.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why did your parents decide to leave Mexico and come to Minnesota?

In Mexico, it’s harder to make it. I come from a family of six siblings. I’m the youngest. I think my parents were just looking for better opportunities. My mom’s mother passed away when she was 8 years old, so she didn’t get past second grade. She’s worked her whole life just trying to make it. The same thing with my dad. He was a country boy, and I think his highest level of education was elementary. They wanted us to have a better education and just better opportunities.

I’ve always wondered why they chose Minnesota, considering it’s so cold. But I have asked them that, and there were just more work opportunities and that’s what they were looking for. Ever since, Minnesota has been my home, whether I love it or hate it because of its weather. This is what I am accustomed to. All my family is here, and I’ve actually never been back home.

How has having DACA status affected your life?

It gives you a sense of security. It opens up professional opportunities. You can apply anywhere. With a status, the sky is the limit. If you’re not utilizing it and taking advantage of it, then it’s on you. I don’t think somebody who was born here really understands the struggle when you don’t have a status. 

When I graduated from high school, DACA was not in existence. One thing I have always considered is if I know that I can’t reach something, I won’t pursue it. I remember when I was in high school and I actually wanted to go into the medical field, but I didn’t pursue it because I had no status and I knew that I was going to hit that wall at some point. I graduated and went to Century College in White Bear Lake because I could afford it. I went into interior design, which I love, but it’s very different. 

In 2017, Trump tried to end DACA. What was it like for you to suddenly have your legal status threatened? 

I remember when DACA was finally approved, and it was time to apply. I was excited, but I was very skeptical. The reason was because before, you’re invisible in the system and you want to keep it that way to a certain extent because obviously if you’re here and you don’t have a status, you’re illegal. I was skeptical because now I’m in the system. What if they take it away? That was the fear. I’m out in the open, I’m here. I’m a target now. Through the years I’ve learned to be comfortable with it. 

I think that when Trump was in office, it just opened up the door for more racism. It just opened up a can of worms. It’s unfortunate that DACA is not permanent. At any time, they can revoke it. So that’s still there. It doesn’t go anywhere. I’m definitely pushing for a path to citizenship.

What was it like to not have a legal status before you had DACA?

In my experience, I didn’t have an ID. I didn’t have a driver’s license, and in Minnesota, I feel like it’s necessary for you to drive just because it’s so cold. You don’t have an ID because you don’t have a Social Security number. [Sixteen states allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, but Minnesota isn’t one of them.] That’s what DACA has provided: a legal Social Security number that is bound to my name. When you ask, do you feel like you have a status? Because of that, I feel like I have a status.

It’s unfortunate that there are people out there who — it’s not that they don’t know how to drive, it’s just the fact that they’re not given the opportunity to get a driver’s license. It’s just people who are trying to make it for their families. That’s what my parents wanted to do for us and, and I am forever thankful for it.

There was also a time when I talked to a college recruiter and I told them my situation, that I wanted to attend college and I was undocumented and I was going to need financial aid. He just cut me off. Right away, he said, there’s nothing I can do for you. I’ll never forget that. At that moment, I just felt belittled. I was very upset and embarrassed — just from the look that he gave me and that he just turned away and that was the end of the conversation. Now that I have DACA, whatever I put my heart into, I know I can reach it because there’s not that wall that I’m going to bump into.

DACA doesn’t provide the full rights of citizens. How has that impacted your life, and what are you hoping will change about that?

Voting is a big one. I can’t vote, but the people who can, I can be an influence on them and hopefully they’re voting on our behalf. As far as other benefits that I don’t have, one is traveling. The reason why I haven’t gone home is because DACA only permits me to go back home if there’s an emergency — thankfully I haven’t had one — or for educational purposes or work purposes. Even if you do have to leave, you have to go through your lawyer and make sure they advise you to do so because you could go out and not be able to come back.

In my case, I do feel like I am more American than Mexican, but I am proud of my origins, and I will always claim to be a proud Mexican. However, I don’t know my country. I would love to have that freedom to go and learn more about my own roots.

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Colleen Connolly
Colleen Connolly

Colleen Connolly is a Minneapolis-based bilingual journalist writing about immigration, education, Latin America and other issues. Connolly has also worked as a digital news editor at the Chicago Tribune and NBC Chicago.