His story begins in Mexico, where a ruined economy forced his parents to flee their beloved colonial hometown and move to the United States, leaving their children behind. As a pre-teen, he crossed the border in a heart-pounding effort to reunite with his parents in San Francisco where nine family members lived in a tiny apartment. He started high school unable to speak English. In college, he financed his undergraduate education by washing dishes late at night in restaurant kitchens.
Now in his second year at the UC Davis School of Medicine, Velázquez is determined to become a primary care physician.
But despite making it this far, he faces one more obstacle, and it’s unrelated to the rigors of school: Velázquez is among at least 650,000 young undocumented immigrants known as DACA recipients who have temporary protected legal status until officials in Washington, DC, decide the fate of the politically controversial program.
Velázquez, who describes himself as being “in a constant struggle for survival,” is scared and anxious about his future if the federal government eliminates the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“I have to worry about whether I’ll be able to continue medical school moving forward,” he said. “I worry about my future in residency; if DACA gets taken away, I cannot become a doctor, and I cannot fulfill my dream of going back to my community and serving the underserved.”
In the best-case scenario, DACA recipients, some of whom were brought to this country as undocumented immigrants, will be given permanent residency and a path to citizenship. Under the worst-case scenario, they will be deported to the countries where they were born.
The U.S. Supreme Court attempted to sort through the issue last month when it responded favorably to a lawsuit by the University of California Regents, which sued the Trump Administration for its attempt to end the program. But while the court blocked the federal government from dismantling DACA, the ruling did not prevent the administration from trying to eliminate the program using a different justification.
Velázquez tries not to think about the uncertainty, which could be resolved, or worsened, by the upcoming presidential election.
“Whenever I’m anxious about DACA,” he said, “my place of comfort is studying.”