A slip of paper, a piece of plastic: it seems almost arbitrary to think that is all that separates “documented” from “undocumented” Californians. But nearly anyone from the latter group could tell you that although our differences may seem slight, not having that piece of paper changes everything. It isn’t just a legal issue; it carries with it a profoundly real psychological impact – the feeling of belonging, of legitimacy, of building toward a future of living in the light.
Puente works toward bringing people into the light in several ways: with citizenship, renewal of green cards, U visas for crime victims, and DACA applications (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a permit for young people who were brought to the U.S. as children).
Now Puente is preparing to help undocumented South Coast residents attain a special driver’s license under a new California law that takes effect January 1, 2015. State officials are expecting a crush of applications, and Puente is working with the California DMV to help locals get their papers in order to streamline the process. Puente will host an information night with a DMV representative on the evening of Tuesday, August 19, to share details about the new rules.
Puente will not only get people the information they need, but will help prepare people to take their written driving tests, says Ben Ranz, Community Outreach Coordinator.
“My biggest concern is literacy levels and test-taking skills,” says Ranz. “For folks who haven’t made it out of the third grade, multiple-choice can be a strange thing. That’s the preparation I want to focus on.”
This fall marks a joyful milestone for many young people in Pescadero: the two-year anniversary of receiving a DACA permit. Now Puente is helping 19 young people renew their permits, which expire in October. And three other youth are applying to DACA for the first time.
That piece of paper helped a lot, says Lorena Calvillo, who is 19 and drives to her classes at San Francisco State University. She is in her second year and is studying to be a civil engineer.
“Things are brighter now. You’re not so afraid of everything. You kind of feel equal,” says Calvillo. She paused to add: “Before, I wondered why was I going to school if I couldn’t even be a citizen.”
These past two years have changed many lives, says Rita Mancera, Program Director for Puente.
“They feel free. They know they have the right to work now. We saw academic performance improve. And the ones who are in college are on track for pursuing their majors.”
While DACA does not offer a path to citizenship, it can create transformative opportunities. In a recent study of DACA recipients, a majority of those surveyed were able to get a new job, open their first bank account and obtain a driver’s license.
In Pescadero, DACA helped youth get Social Security cards. Those who are old enough to drive got their driver’s license, and those who are not have a California ID.
One of Puente’s most familiar young faces, Laura Rodriguez, is Puente’s summer camp coordinator. She has earned a wage over the years doing various jobs, but this year she is doing it with a work permit. She was recently approved for a special, blanket visa that will allow her to stay in the U.S. indefinitely and to apply for a green card.
After hearing her story, Puente put Rodriguez’s mother in touch with an outside attorney who took care of her visa application.
“If it weren’t for Puente, I don’t know where I would be right now. Life is tough and it only gets tougher,” says Rodriguez, 19. “But now I know this is just the beginning.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when Rodriguez feared highway patrol officers and checkpoints, because someone could discover she had no driver’s license and take her car away. Now she drives without fear – which is especially helpful in her commute to community college, where she is studying to become a computer engineer.