America was a free country. There, freedom is everything. Growing up, that was the picture I had. America was the country where you’re free to do whatever you want.
It all changed when I turned sixteen. I woke up excited, ready to go to the DMV and get my driver’s license like all my friends were doing -- and then my parents told me that I was here illegally. I was undocumented. Reality sunk in. America was not a free country for me.
After graduating high school, my studies were on hiatus. I could not apply for college or legally get a job. My parents needed financial help to raise me and my younger siblings. I needed to find a way to contribute.
Then Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced. Maybe there was a way to get legal status after all! This pushed me even more to figure out a way to make money. I needed to save enough money for a lawyer to see if I could even qualify for DACA.
A friend told me that a store in my neighborhood would hire me even though I was undocumented. I just had to provide any proof of identity — even if it wasn’t my own. Earlier that year, my mother was arrested and detained, but was not deported. She had a temporary work permit because of the incident, so I used it to apply for the job at the grocery store.
Then a few weeks later, Sheriff Joe Arpaio ordered a raid on my workplace. Under Arizona’s new laws, those falsifying their own documentation for any purpose are criminally charged with identity theft.
When I got arrested, I felt the anger. I am not able to work, I am not able to get into school, I’m not able to do so many things because I wasn’t born in the United States.
All I did was report to work that day. Why is that crime?
Noemi Romero arrived in the United States from Villahermosa, Mexico at the age of four. Her identity theft charge prevents her from qualifying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.