My name is Michelle Valladarez. I’m 20 years old and I’m undocumented. When I was eight years old, my father made some choices that put my brother and I in a dangerous situation in Honduras, where I was born. Daily I would get pulled out of class and questioned on my father’s whereabouts. We were no longer safe, not even in school. Fearing the worst, my mother decided to bring my brother to the United States. A year later, she sent for me. Luckily, my brother was able to enter the country by plane. I had to cross the border. At such a young age I had heard plenty about the terrible things that happen when trying to cross into the US. I was terrified. It took nearly two months to get to North Carolina, but finally I was reunited with my family.

I was excited to be here and excited to return to school. Since I had attended a bilingual school in Honduras, English was not a barrier for me. But even though I knew English and felt like I had a better future ahead of me, my excitement quickly died when I saw how difficult the life of an illegal immigrant is. Everywhere I went I was faced with racism and in school I got bullied plenty. It felt like it could not get any worse.. until I got to high school and had to start thinking about college that is.

Michelle Valladarez is an undocumented youth from Zebulon, NC. Her dream is to join the Air Force.

Michelle Valladarez is an undocumented youth from Zebulon, NC. Her dream is to join the Air Force.

My first two years of high school were fairly smooth. I had good grades and developed a love and appreciation for the military after I joined AFJROTC. Once I got to my junior year though, depression slowly began to sink in. It hit me that I might not be able to attend college or join the military. I reached out to recruiters and my school counselor in hopes of finding an answer. My school counselors had never been faced with this situation since most students live in the shadows and in fear because of their immigration status. They didn’t know what to do any more than I did. My parents began to share my frustration and fear. They suggested I go back to Honduras or to go study in Mexico. This is an issue that most immigrant students face. In their frustration, parents lose sight of what is truly important to us and instead of being supportive their solution to the problem is to send us back to our country of origin. I refused to give up. I refused to go back.

Even though my Junior year felt tough, I decided to suck it up and give my last year of high school the best I had. The biggest highlight of my senior year was becoming Group Commander of my JROTC Unit and exceeding expectations for our Unit inspection. That brought us to the top 10% of all AFJROTC units in the country. My dream of being in the military grew even more and I looked into the eligibility requirements for an Air Force Scholarship. Out of all the graduating Seniors, I was the only one who really had a chance at that scholarship. But there was one thing missing: papers. My heart was crushed and has been ever since.

After high school I went to college for a year. Wesleyan College, a private school, had given me a scholarship to cover some of the tuition costs and my step-dad agreed to pay what was left. My step-dad is also an illegal immigrant. His job wasn’t steady enough to afford my schooling, so I had to to quit for a year and work to pay off my tuition. As an illegal immigrant it is hard to find a decent job and sometimes you get stuck working for people that underpay you and don’t respect you. That’s why I am thankful for DACA and I can now have a better job and drive without fear. But DACA is only temporary and I still can’t afford paying out-of-state tuition. I also cannot enlist in the military despite having legal presence through deferred action. I also live in fear that my brother will also have to pay the price of being an undocumented student and that my mom or step-dad could get detained for driving with an expired license they can’t renew because NC doesn’t issue licenses to illegal immigrants.

Michelle graduated from Southern Nash High in 2011. Because she's undocumented, she could not get the Air Force scholarship despite the fact that she met all other requirements.

Michelle graduated from Southern Nash High in 2011. Because she’s undocumented, she could not get the Air Force scholarship despite the fact that she met all other requirements.

It has been rough and I’ve had to give up a lot of opportunities due to a lack of “legal status”. But I still have hopes that there will be a silver lining. I am not giving up, and neither should any undocumented youth. We deserve to get an education, to be able to have the job of our choice, and we deserve to have the option of joining the armed forces. But we have to fight for our rights. They’re not just gonna fall from the sky. And that is why I’ve decided to join the NC Dream Team and fight alongside other undocumented youth to improve the situation of our community.

I share my story with you to let you know that you are not alone. But above all to tell you that we must persevere in the face of adversity. I’m a Military DREAMer and my story does not end here.