Brought to the United States illegally as a child, Guadalupe Pimentel-Solano grew up in Indianapolis, went to school and churches here, graduated college here and, at 25, now owns a home on the west side. In today’s political shorthand, she’s a “Dreamer.”
She watched her brother go to war for America, gain citizenship through marriage and help their mother gain residency. Meanwhile, Pimentel-Solano and her father have remained at risk for deportation, particularly in the era of President Trump.
At work in an immigration law office, she fields daily calls from anxious clients who wonder what Congress or Trump or the courts might do next. While many Americans debate immigration, Pimentel-Solano feels the tension of it at multiple pressure points. Increasingly, she’s conflicted by it.
After spending most of her life here — and a decade as Indiana’s most visible Dreamer activist — Pimentel-Solano is coming to terms with a hard truth: As much as she has tried to embrace America, America doesn’t yet seem ready to embrace her.
“Even though I was raised here,” she said, “I feel like I’m not fully able to claim it.”
Trump made tough talk on immigrants a centerpiece of his campaign, and Pimentel-Solano sensed early on that his rhetoric might gain a following. In his first year in office, Trump set in motion a plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has afforded Pimentel-Solano and some 690,000 other young immigrants some shelter from deportation through an approval that must be renewed every two years. Pimentel-Solano’s current DACA expires in November 2019.
While Trump has said he wants America to offer Dreamers a permanent home, he issued a veto threat last month that scuttled a bipartisan deal Congress was cooking up. He has held firm that any deal to spare Dreamers must also come with money for a border wall, tighter limits on legal immigration and restrictions on how immigrants bring family members into the country.
Trump set a March 5 deadline for Congress to act or he threatened to end DACA. But a Supreme Court ruling late last month offered a temporary reprieve until lawsuits can be heard in court.
For Dreamers, the latest plot twist is just the up-and-down nature of life in today’s political climate. “I think it just adds to the uncertainty,” Pimentel-Solano said. “One day it’s one thing, one day it’s another.”
Such uncertainty stokes a restlessness within her — one that forces Pimentel-Solano to question where her national identity rests.
She loves Mexico, the country of her birth, but has been back just twice in the past 18 years. She found the Spanish dialect strange to her ears. Her only personal ties are a grandmother and some aunts.
She loves America, where she is part of a community. As a Dreamer activist, she has embraced American freedom, leading rallies and protests and lobbying members of Congress. She even calculated when to push the limits, with an arrest during a sit-in in the governor’s office.
Still, the sharp rhetoric aimed at her and other immigrants is taking its toll.
Increasingly, she identifies with the Spanish phrase: Ni de aqui, ni de alla.
Neither from here nor there.
“I think that describes a lot of us very well,” she said.
Nationally, Dreamers enjoy substantial support from the American people. A recent Morning Consult/Politico poll indicated that more than 70 percent of Americans think Dreamers should be allowed either to gain citizenship or legal residency.
There are sympathetic ears in Congress, such as U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, an Indiana Republican who attends the same west-side church, St. Monica, as Pimentel-Solano’s family. Brooks has met face to face with Pimentel-Solano and other Dreamers.
In a statement from her office, she said she wants Dreamers to be able to continue living here in America. “Sending DACA recipients who pledge allegiance to our flag back to countries they are not familiar with is not the solution,” Brooks said.
But the prevailing winds in Congress and the Trump administration appear to be driven by those whose views are echoed by Dave Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration.
Gorak has no sympathy for the personal stories of Dreamers like Pimentel-Solano. “The responsibility for her predicament and the other DACA recipients lies squarely at the feet of her parents,” Gorak said. “They brought her here illegally in violation of our laws.”
As Gorak sees it, the issue isn’t about the plight of the immigrant but about the failure of the American government, over several decades, to staunch the flow of people coming illegally into the country. In his view, America is a sovereign country with the right to define and defend its borders and to determine who is allowed to enter.
The terrorist attacks of 2001 show the dangers of porous borders, Gorak said, as does the criminal activity spilling over from Mexico.
Beyond safety, Gorak and others see unchecked immigration as an economic threat, one that displaces workers and drives down wages.
Gorak opposes a path to citizenship for Dreamers. And he doesn’t care whether young immigrants are forced to go back to a country they barely know.
“That,” he said, “is not our problem.”
But it is precisely the problem for Pimentel-Solano.
Originally from Córdoba, a city in the central Mexican state of Veracruz, she says her parents wanted to give her and her older brother a better life — and opportunities — in the United States.
When she was 6, they waved goodbye to her grandmother and drove to a town near the Arizona border. There they made two attempts — or maybe three, she can’t remember — before successfully crossing the border. She remembers running in the desert, hiding among rocks and resting in her mother’s arm under a tree.
She arrived in Indianapolis on her seventh birthday.
Her family embedded themselves in the community. They found a church. She enrolled in Pike Township schools. And while she remembers her father using extreme caution as a driver, particularly with police nearby, she didn’t realize her family’s legal status until she was in the eighth grade. That’s when her school was urging kids to sign up for the 21st Century Scholarship program.
She went home and asked about her Social Security number.
Her mother said she didn’t have one.
“She told me I wasn’t from here,” Pimentel-Solano recalls.
The news was crushing and, for a couple of years, she stopped trying in school until she met some older kids who were living in the country illegally but attending college. “It gave me a glimmer of hope,” she said.
Pimentel-Solano graduated from Pike in 2010 and enrolled at Ivy Tech but with no plan on how to pay for college. She would start by taking every other semester off to work.
Her exposure to other young immigrants also drew her into Latino advocacy. She became a young voice for the DREAM Act, a federal proposal — never adopted —to grant young immigrants permanent residency. By January 2011, she was protesting the Indiana General Assembly, which had begun considering two bills that hit close to home.
One put an end to in-state tuition for immigrant students brought to the country illegally, which was certain to make it harder for her to pay for school. The other penalized businesses for knowingly hiring them, which would make it harder for her father to find work.
At a Statehouse rally, Pimentel-Solano took the stage in her high school graduation cap and gown and for the first time publicly declared to the world she had been brought to the cournty illegally as a child.
“I remember it was kind of scary,” she said, “but it was freeing.”
Leaving the stage, she and four other young activists walked into the office of Gov. Mitch Daniels and asked for an audience. Told he was occupied, Pimentel-Solano and the others took seats on the floor and locked arms. Soon, they were arrested, loaded into a paddy wagon and carted off to the Marion County Jail.
Initially, it appeared the act of civil disobedience might get them deported. But immigration officials decided there were more serious threats to security than five student protesters. After a day in jail, and a declaration that they intended to go on a hunger strike, Pimentel-Solano and the others were freed. Eventually, their arrest records were expunged.
Their bold action didn’t stop Daniels from signing the bills into law.
John Clark, who would become one of Pimentel-Solano’s teachers at IUPUI, said the students’ willingness to protest — even with the risks involved — revealed a deeper understanding of citizenship than many native-born people hold.
“The legal definition of citizenship has to do with your passport and your birth certificate and things like that,” Clark said. “What Lupe (Pimentel-Solano) and her four campañeros did in Mitch’s office — getting arrested like that — I consider that to be one of the really great acts of being a good citizen, of being willing to put everything on the line for something that you believe in.”
Their actions had an unintended consequence: Someone who read about their protest came forward and paid for a semester’s tuition for each student.
It also inspired Pimentel-Solano to help found the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, a vehicle for her activism and a voice for other young people who, like her, were from neither here nor there.
Her activism also did something else. In 2014, it helped her land a full scholarship to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis that was based, in part, upon the student’s social involvement. At IUPUI, her embrace of American civil rights and civil liberties only blossomed, said Sheila Suess Kennedy, a professor of law and public policy.
“She probably knows more about the United States Constitution than 90 percent of the kids born here,” Kennedy said.
Pimentel-Solano graduated with a degree in media and public affairs in December 2017. The achievement was bittersweet: Her family and community saw it as a great achievement, but the funding obstacles meant it had taken seven years.
These days Pimentel-Solano works as a legal assistant with the law firm of attorney Kevin Muñoz, where she had worked part time through school. She serves as a translator and a consultant for clients. She listens to the stories of immigrants who have been witnesses to or victims of crime, a painful but important exercise that is a step in getting them special visas aimed toward people who cooperate with police investigations.
Muñoz describes Pimentel-Solano with words such as “integrity”and “trustworthy.” But he says her value is more than that.
“When it comes to dealing with people, she has the utmost compassion for the people that she helps,” he said. “She’s very humane. She’s a very kind soul.”
But compassion can be draining. She feels the anxieties of clients calling with questions about the news from Washington. Then there’s how the news affects her father, her friends and herself. In the end, Pimentel-Solano almost can’t escape the immigration debate.
Trump’s election, and the president’s actions since, have forced Pimentel-Solano to re-examine assumptions she had made about life in America.
While her brother and her mother are safe, she and her father — who has been turned down for residency applications because of repeated illegal border crossings — are in jeopardy.
Pimentel-Solano doesn’t blame her parents for their situation; she is grateful to them for bringing her to a country that has given her an education and opportunities to thrive.
Her brother and parents declined to be interviewed for this story, she said, because they fear her exposure. But she already is exposed and not just because she is appearing in a news story. In repeatedly registering for DACA she has given the government her address and updated photos of her.
The feds know where she lives and what she looks like.
But there’s something else. Like many Dreamers, Pimentel-Solano has begun to make contingency plans and to consider, “What if?” She doesn’t want to be forced out of the United States — “I’d probably just wait until they dragged me out,” she said — but she doesn’t rule out that her education and language skills could serve her well in Mexico.
Clark, one of her IUPUI professors, said it would be difficult for Pimentel-Solano to return to a country she left when she was 6 years old, but he expects she would succeed. He just can’t fathom why America wouldn’t want to keep Pimentel-Solano for itself.
“We’d be idiots not to want someone like that to be a member of our community,” he said.
One avenue to citizenship Pimentel-Solano will not pursue, she says, is a marriage for papers. “I think I’ve always been a morally valid person,” she said. “I don’t see myself doing that.”
So she presses on. She will take graduate school entrance exams. She will continue her work at the law office and with other youth in similar situations. She will keep praying to remain with her parents and her brother. And despite the challenges ahead, she hopes there’s a place for her in America.
“Even though it’s hard,” she said, “this is home.”