Chasing the American dream: DACA’s uncertain future turns woman’s dreams into nightmares |

Chasing the American dream: DACA’s uncertain future turns woman’s dreams into nightmares

Thaina Nunez has dreams of becoming a certified public accountant.

The 21-year-old has dreams of repaying the support she has found in the community of Steamboat Springs.

And she dreams of becoming a United States citizen, someday.

But she also has nightmares.

"I have a nightmare that I was in a store in Mexico, and that I didn't know what the currency was," the junior at Colorado Mesa University said. "I mean I can tell you what a penny looks like, and I can tell you what a quarter looks like, but I am nowhere familiar with the currency in Mexico. It's things like that, paying for groceries, those are unconscious fears of mine that are coming up in my dreams."

"All that I have known is living here since I was 3, so I mean continuing my education in Mexico is going to be close to impossible just because I'm not at that level," Nunez continued. "I'm a junior in college here, but in Mexico I'm probably an eighth grader."

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Nunez moved to Steamboat Springs with her mother as a child, was introduced to the Steamboat Springs educational system in kindergarten and graduated from high school here.

"It's always been hard for me to understand why all my classmates were not having the same worries that I have had," Nunez said. "They grew up knowing that they would get in-state tuition because they have lived in Colorado their whole lives. But so have I — I went to kindergarten, I went to school with these people, but without DACA, I would have to pay the foreign rate. It was hard before DACA, but DACA made it possible to be able go to school and further my education past high school."

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an immigration policy that allows individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit.

Nunez was accepted into the DACA program before she was 16 and has been making the most of the opportunities she has found in Steamboat Springs. She was a top student, and when the time came to go to college, she said found support in the mountain community that she called home. Local organizations like Alpine Bank and Colorado Mountain College stepped up with special scholarships for Hispanic students, and once she got to college, she earned a merit scholarships to help pay the price of tuition.

"I'm here, where I am now, because of the Steamboat Springs community," she said. "I was not eligible for FASFA or any sort of loans or anything … so basically I had to rely on grants and scholarships and the university to be able to get me through school. I would say that I've done my part, but mostly it's been the community of Steamboat that has made this possible for me."

In addition to taking a full load of classes, Nunez is working full time to pay her bills at college.

"Aside from that you have to work really hard to get those scholarships," Nunez said, "you have to have really good grades and be involved in the community, which are things that I had. The community of Steamboat was willing to help me out a little bit with the financial part of it because I can't borrow money… but it takes a lot of commitment and drive to be able get to the place where I am."

In early September, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump Administration will phase out the DACA program over the next six months, and leave it to congress to fix. The announcement rocked Nunez's world, and resulted in more than a few restless nights.

"If it turns out that nothing happens, and I will not have DACA anymore, then in six months I will have to drop out of school and work until my DACA expires," she said. "I will have to save up as much money as I can to go back to Mexico."

The decision has sparked fears for Nunez as she contemplates moving to a country where she is able to speak the language conversationally, but has limited knowledge of how to survive.

"You don't belong. You are not wanted here in the Untied States, you are not wanted in Canada and you are not wanted in other countries," Nunez said. "The crime rates are completely ridiculous in Mexico. In the neighborhood where we lived, there are shootings every day. You can't walk out, walk to the store, on the sidewalk without fear of being shot. It's intimidating because I have never lived there."

Nunez was grateful for DACA, but she said she understands why some Americans have issues with the program. DACA has offered her a chance to stay and work in the country legally as long as she renews her status every two years, She pays taxes and must undergo background checks to make sure that she is a law-abiding and contributing member of her community. But DACA does not provide a path to the citizenship she so desperately hopes for, but simply allows her to stay, and work in the United States.

"I just want to say I understand both sides. I understand the law, and that we have to follow law," she said. "But the other side is the humane aspect of it — this is all I've known …I don't feel like I did anything wrong. I was three years old when I entered, and I had no idea what the repercussions would be. Sometimes I wish my parents never would have come here."

But for now Nunez will continue to chase her education, and her dreams. She has received her associates degree from Colorado Mountain College, and is pursuing a bachelors degree in science and accounting and a master's degree in business administration at Colorado Mesa University. By the time she reaches her senior year in college she plans to take the exam to become a CPA.

"Someday, I want to become a part of the American business world," she said. "Someday, I hope to live the American dream."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966