I grew up in the quaint, small fishing town of Blaine, Washington located on the U.S./Canada border. We often crossed the border to enjoy amenities we didn’t have in our community of 2,500 residents – an indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, ice skating rink, dill pickle and ketchup flavored potato chips and Canadian candy. Aero chocolate mint bar and MacIntosh’s toffee were my favorite; perhaps I can attribute my lifetime struggle to reach a healthy weight to Canadian junk food! We shopped north of the border to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate – and my friends and I frequented the night clubs where the drinking age was 19.
While Blaine is one of the largest ports of entry into the United States from Canada west of the Mississippi River, our town was a bit sleepy. My father was a U.S. Customs officer up until his retirement. Some of my friends’ dads were also U.S. Customs and Immigration officers. Border Patrol cars cruised up and down our streets. Border protection was a way of life, but there wasn’t much action from my vantage point – and we never really gave much thought to the idea of people entering the country illegally.
In 1995, I relocated to San Diego, not far from the U.S./Mexico border, for a job opportunity. I admit that I was pretty naïve about the illegal immigration issues on the U.S./Mexico border when I arrived. For the longest time I didn’t know what the freeway warning signs showing a family running across the freeway were meant to convey.
While topics surrounding immigration can be polarizing, I think we can all agree that legally immigrating to the United States is the law-abiding thing to do. But sometimes children don’t have the opportunity to make that choice for themselves. And up until five years ago, children who were brought to the United States illegally didn’t have a path forward to attend college and seek employment legally. They lived in fear of deportation due to their undocumented status.
This past year, I had the privilege of mentoring one of our college interns, who was just a toddler when her parents brought her to the United States, and has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. It was truly one of the most rewarding coaching experiences of my career as I watched this young woman earn her place in the public relations industry. I loved listening to her interview Spanish-speaking patients for story pitches for one of our hospital clients – and then pitch Spanish-language media. It was tremendous for our clients who benefitted from her bilingual/bi-literate talent.
She served in a leadership position with her campus chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. She went on volunteer mission trips. She is active in her church. I witnessed a model resident, student and employee who has so much to contribute to our industry and our country.
When our intern graduated this past spring she received the Exceptional Professional Promise Award at the California State University Fullerton Department of Communications’ awards ceremony. She said, “Throughout my academic career, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some of the most inspirational professionals. I’d like to publicly thank every single mentor and supervisor that has believed in me by taking me under your wings as an intern to prepare me for my next steps after graduation. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
I’m gratified that I got to be part of her journey toward a better life than the one her native country had to offer her family. I’ve now seen firsthand how DACA changed the trajectory of a young person’s life. I’m incredibly proud to work for a company that embraces diversity and fosters opportunity for everyone we employ.
But now that DACA has been rescinded by the Trump Administration, it’s in the hands of Congress to determine what the future holds for nearly 800,000 people who made the decision to do the right thing at the time and publicly register their undocumented status with our federal government.