'Dreamers' program opens doors for Iowa teens

Trump's deadline to end DACA this week delayed by courts

Val Ramos listens Thursday to her brother, Kavir, discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. The teenage siblings were brought to the United States from Mexico as children and are in the program, which was set to end Monday until court action intervened. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Val Ramos listens Thursday to her brother, Kavir, discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. The teenage siblings were brought to the United States from Mexico as children and are in the program, which was set to end Monday until court action intervened. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — There’s a half-built house in Mexico where Carlos Ramos expected to raise his family.

But Ramos, a drywalled by trade, decided instead to come to America because he wanted better opportunities for his children.

“He’s our Dreamer,” said Kavir Ramos, 19, referring to the name sometimes used for young people like him brought to the United States as children.

Monday is the deadline President Donald Trump had set for ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, if Congress didn’t act — which it didn’t.

The program, created in 2012 under former President Barack Obama, allows more than 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants, brought here as children, to live, work and go to school legally in the United States.

There are more than 2,700 DACA recipients in Iowa, with another 400 waiting for approval of their applications, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Legal challenges will postpone the DACA deadline for now and allow recipients to renew their status. But the uncertainty has caused many Dreamers to step into the shadows. Some are afraid if they speak out against Trump’s DACA decision, it will make them a target for deportation.


At a DACA rally last month in Cedar Rapids, speakers used only the first names of Iowa Dreamers. But Kavir and Val Ramos, 18, were willing to talk with The Gazette about their lives in Iowa and their hopes for the future.

“I’m definitely fearful,” said Val, a senior at Iowa City West High School. “We’ve been here all our lives.”


Finding their way

Kavir and Val were born in Chihuahua, Mexico, four hours south of the U.S. border at El Paso, Texas. But they remember very little of their birth country.

When they were preschoolers, their mother, Maria Ramos, moved with them to Olathe, Kan., where Carlos had found steady construction work.

The kids were in classes for English language learners, which made Kavir shy to talk with his peers. Val, only 3 when she came to the United States, learned to speak English quickly.

“Every parent-teacher conference after that the teacher would say, ‘She’s really talkative’,” Val said, laughing. It was clear teachers, with lessons to teach, sometimes would have preferred a little less chatter.

Carlos and Maria insisted the kids speak Spanish at home, which has helped the teens maintain their native language. Val is trilingual after taking French for the last six years.

The family moved to Iowa City in 2010. By then, Carlos had returned to Mexico and gotten a visa to live and work legally in the United States, Kavir Ramos said. Likewise, Maria Ramos is here with a visa and the family has a comfortable house on Iowa City’s west side. Siblings Carlos, 11, Marely, 10, and Mateo, 8 months, all are U.S. citizens.


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Uncertain status

Kavir Ramos remembers the first time he understood his status in America was uncertain.

“In junior high, I wanted to get my permit because everyone was driving,” he said. Maria Ramos told her son that because he didn’t have a Social Security number and wasn’t a citizen, he couldn’t drive legally.

Every form that called for a Social Security number was a reminder no matter how well the kids were doing in school or how many American friends they had, they were different.

“I’m definitely fearful...We’ve been here all our lives.”

- Val Ramos

DACA recipient and senior at Iowa City West High School


A family friend helped Kavir and Val apply for DACA status in 2014, when they were 15 and 14, respectively. One of the final stages required them to go to the Capitol in Des Moines to complete paperwork and be photographed and fingerprinted.

“My parents didn’t want to walk into that building,” Kavir Ramos said. “So we had to walk in alone.”

DACA status has opened many doors to the Ramoses. With it, they were able to get Social Security numbers that allow them to drive and get jobs. Kavir had a part-time job at Hartig Drug in Iowa City when he was in high school and Val works at Target. Val is taking two advanced placement classes this year, French and psychology, and she now has a Social Security number she can write in on the test form.

DACA recipients can’t get federal financial aid, which has made it a challenge to pay for college.


Kavir attended one year at the University of Iowa, but transferred to Kirkwood Community College to save money.

“My first year of college cost $18,000, all out of my dad’s pocket,” Kavir said.

He thinks it’s better for the family to invest its money in Val, who wants to study psychology and become a nurse. Kavir is hoping to get a business degree.

“I want to be a contractor,” he said. “I want to design houses and build them myself.”

DACA decision coming

The Ramoses think many people are confused about DACA.

Recipients, roughly between the ages of 16 and 35, must be enrolled in high school or already have a diploma or GED. People with serious criminal histories aren’t eligible. The bulk of recipients are from Mexico, but others are from Central American, South America, Asia and the Caribbean.

Trump has said he would allow up to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally if he got $25 billion for border security, including a wall. This is about the same number of people who are eligible for DACA, reported.

The larger debate over immigration is holding up a Congressional decision on DACA recipients.

The Ramoses have an aunt who is an immigration lawyer in Kansas and she’s told them she believes DACA recipients will be allowed to keep their status and possibly get a path to citizenship. With that hope, the teenagers are moving forward with their lives.

Val Ramos is part of the Corazon Latino dance group and has spoken at several “Latinx” panels. Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative to Latino and Latina and stands for anyone born in a Spanish-speaking country.


Kavir Ramos is starting a business with his father. Kavir’s DACA status allows him to apply for a business license so they can start a tortilla factory on Highway 1, just west of Iowa City. Tortillas Chihuas, an homage to Carlos’s Mexican home, would sell fresh tortillas to stores and restaurants, Kavir said.

He’s helping his dad frame and drywall the interior of the factory and they hope to finish construction this month.

Unlike the half-built house back in Mexico, this dream is going to happen.

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