Priscila Narcio’s family immigrated to the U.S from Mexico when she was five, but after years of being undocumented, she now has DACA status

Priscila Narcio stands on the Riverfront in Salem, Ore. Narcio is pursuing a teaching degree from OSU and was an undocumented immigrant before she received her DACA status.

Richard Steeves

Sinaloa, Mexico, is not the safest place to raise a child, but that is where Priscila Narcio was born. 

“The area we were living in was really dangerous,” said Priscila’s mother Teresa Narcio.

Priscila remembers when she still lived there, and the fear she felt hearing footsteps on her roof at night. Concerned with their children’s safety, Priscila’s parents wanted a better life for their children, so they looked to the U.S. 

This is where Priscila’s journey to Oregon State University begins.

Struggling financially and worried about his children’s safety, 18 years ago Priscila’s father German made the decision to leave his family and immigrate undocumented to the U.S. in hope of a better life for his family. He left alone, with only $200 to make the over 2,000 mile journey to Portland, Oregon.

When German left, Priscila missed her father deeply.

“When I was younger I used to ask my mom. ‘Where’s my dad? Where’s dad?’ All I knew was he was somewhere else to help us,” Priscila said.

Although Narcio’s sister and brother are much older then her, German’s absence was hard on the whole family. It was not until Priscila was five that the entire family followed their father to Portland, entering the country undocumented. 

“I didn’t want the kids to grow up without a father,” Teresa said.

Leaving Mexico was not an easy decision for the Narcio family. They were leaving behind land, friends and more importantly family.

“My parents sacrificed a lot to move here,” Priscila said.

Portland, Oregon, is a long way from Sinaloa, Mexico, and according to Priscila the cultures are worlds apart. Adjusting to their new local was not easy for the Narcios.

“It wasn’t a place that felt like home,” Priscilla said.

Harder still for Priscila was entering the Portland school system. With her parents only speaking Spanish in the household, kindergarten was Priscila’s first immersion into the English language. 

With no one at school speaking Spanish, and Priscila not fully understanding English, she felt alone and as if she could not relate to anyone. It was not until second grade that she could fully understand and speak English, something Priscila feels set her education back.

By the time Priscila was a middle schooler the family had moved to Salem. This is when Priscila says she really started to notice the cultural differences between Mexico and the U.S.

High school was awkward for Priscila, and again she did not feel like she fit in and did not connect with any of the teachers.  Feeling lost, not knowing what to do after high school and with graduation a year away, Priscila got a glimmer of hope when the Obama administration passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. 

DACA allows undocumented immigrants who meet the guidelines a chance to get a temporary social security number, which among other things can allow them to work and reside in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The policy went into effect on Aug. 15, 2012, right before the beginning of Priscila’s senior year.

“I was told I needed a social security card to get into college,” Priscila said.

Teresa saw the impact that DACA could have on Priscila’s life and feverishly worked to get her approved; a process that took almost a year and included hiring an immigration lawyer that cost over $1,000.

When Priscila’s DACA status was approved, she was then granted temporary resident status in the U.S. for the first time in her life. Previously she was only able to work under the table jobs that mostly consisted of agricultural work. 

“I didn’t want to work in the fields,” Priscila said.

Working documented also led her to believe that she could accomplish more with her life. And when she graduated from South Salem High School in 2013, she felt a college degree was obtainable.

Following graduation, Priscila quickly enrolled at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. She did not know what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to help people. Enrolling was not a problem but when she went to CCC’s financial aid office she faced yet another obstacle. Even though she graduated from a U.S. high school and has spent a majority of her life in the country, only citizens are eligible for federal financial aid. Priscila then had to figure out how she was going to finance her education.

“DACA is already hard enough,” Priscila said. “I felt like my wings wanted to grow, but were being held down.”

The freshness and unfamiliarity of the program to the faculty at CCC made the DACA process during Priscila’s freshman year even more difficult for her. 

“I was bounced around to different people,” Priscila said. “No one had the answers.”

Despite the setback, Priscila did not give up, instead getting a second job so she could pay for school. She admits her first year of college was difficult and frustrating. She said she feels like she had to work twice as hard as other students who did not have to pay out of pocket for school.

Priscila’s second year at CCC is when she says she really hit her stride. Still struggling to pay for school, she spoke to a fellow DACA student who worked in a peer assistant position that paid for up to 18 credits of tuition each term.

A lightbulb went off in Priscila’s head and she did everything she could do get a similar position, even staying after hours to personally speak to the supervisor of the program. Eventually Priscila got the job.

“Being in school gave me the sense that I could do something more,” Priscila said. “It gave me so much value.”

She has since started a DACA club at CCC with a friend and graduated with an associate of arts Oregon transfer degree last June. Priscila is enrolled at OSU through the degree partnership program and hopes to one day be a teacher. The same job her mom did when in Mexico. Priscila would not be the first college graduate in her family; her mother has a bachelor’s in education from Universidad Pedagoica Nacional.

“I am so thankful for her, someone who went through (higher) education,” Priscila said.

However, since Teresa is undocumented and the degree is from Mexico, she cannot work in the same capacity in the U.S. 

“You have to start all over from scratch,” Teresa said. “You have to find work in things you probably wouldn’t do and adapt to where you are now.”

Although enrolled at OSU, Priscila has yet to take a class and says that if she were eligible for federal financial aid things would be different. She still plans on attending Oregon State and is saving money, applying for scholarships and the Oregon Student Aid Application in hopes of achieving her dream of earning a teaching certificate.

Courtney Garcia works in OSU’s Educational Opportunities Program office, which serves underrepresented students such as undocumented students on campus. 

“We build community and offer a safe place,” Garcia said.

According to Garcia, the EOP serves about five undocumented students on campus and funding their education can be a hurdle. 

“The problem with a lot of scholarships is they require a FAFSA,” Garcia said. 

Garcia also said that most undocumented students follow in Priscila’s footsteps and go to community college before attending a four year school.

According to both Priscila and Garcia, a fear that comes with DACA for some undocumented students is the government having their personal information, especially their address. If an undocumented student lives at home with their parents, as in the case of Priscila, the government not only has their address, but their parents’ as well.

However, Garcia said that these sort of fears do not stop most temporary resident status students from giving up their personal information in hopes of graduating.

“In general, parents want what’s best for their kids so they are willing to risk that,” Garcia said.

Garcia also said that most undocumented immigrants come here legally and overstay their visa. Another increasing trend she sees is students who do have U.S. citizenship having parents who are undocumented. She also said there are misunderstandings when it comes to undocumented students.

“One misconception is that all undocumented students are from Mexico,” Garcia said.

She said although undocumented immigrants from Mexico are more common in the Northwest, they can come from any country.

“I worry about the students who are here,” Garcia said. “I worry that they are more vulnerable than the people in the shadows.”

Despite her concerns, she does believe things are improving for undocumented students and DACA students such as Priscila.

Currently Priscila is saving money and working at Four Corners Elementary School in Salem as a teacher’s assistant. Now the trait that held her back when she first entered school, her Spanish language, is the quality that helped her get the job. Certified as bilingual, Priscila is helping kindergarten through 5th graders with their reading and writing skills, something she lacked help with when she was immersed into American culture.

“I feel so grateful. This is the land of opportunity,” Priscila said. “I’m so thankful to be here.”