Gay SF couple
dreams of citizenship
by Matthew S. Bajko
One gay San Francisco couple this holiday season is dreaming of a path to employment and eventual U.S. citizenship.
Edgar Cruz, 28, and Gustavo Cerritos, 22, both came to the U.S. illegally as children, brought by parents seeking a better life for their families.
Cruz was born in Mexico and came to America at the age of 2. Cerritos is a native of Honduras and arrived in the U.S. when he was 9 years old.
"All our family is here. This is home," said Cerritos.
They are among the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. who are hopeful of seeing Congress and President Barack Obama in 2013 adopt new rules for them to gain lawful status and citizenship.
In the meantime, Cruz and Cerritos are in the process of applying with federal authorities for what is known as deferred action for childhood arrivals. The program is aimed at providing 1.7 million immigrant youth, known as Dreamers, a way to attend college or be legally employed despite not having U.S. citizenship.
"I want to go back to school for teaching," said Cerritos, who works under the table as a housekeeper. "It's been hard. You have to limit yourself to so many things. I can't apply to go to a big college or for loans because they ask for your Social Security number. It puts you down."
Without the proper documentation Cruz has limited employment opportunities. He had been working for a national retailer at its Peninsula location and was up for a manager position. But he had to leave the company when his employer asked for several documents he did not possess.
"We can't do anything," said Cruz, who has found some work as a freelance florist in the Mission. "I was accepted to UC Berkeley, but I couldn't get the funds to go."
"There aren't a lot of scholarships for undocumented students," added Cerritos.
Even their movements are restricted, for they lack proper identification to pass through airport security. His confinement has been particularly rough for Cruz, who prior to meeting Cerritos was married to a woman for six years with whom he fathered two children.
Following a custody battle his ex relocated to Florida, and Cruz now talks to his kids via Facetime. He is trying to save enough money in order to fly them to the West Coast in June, as they are supposed to live with him until the summer of 2015.
"I can't hop on a plane," said Cruz, adding that he does not want to move to Florida. "I grew up here. I may have been born in Mexico but I am a San Franciscan."
If Cruz and Cerritos are granted deferred action then, in essence, the couple would not have to worry about being deported for two years as long as they do not violate any laws. It would provide them some peace of mind that they would not be separated and could seek legal employment.
"There is a lot of fear. You don't know what will happen or maybe you will get deported," said Cruz. "We just want to live the American dream and own a house."
"And get a driver's license," added Cerritos.
After the Obama administration announced the deferred action program for those people who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 and came to the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday, Cruz and Cerritos turned to the Mission Asset Fund for assistance in paying the $465 application fee.
The local nonprofit set up a loan program called Lending Circles for Dreamers. The program gives the immigrant youth a free loan of $310 and also provides them with a 33 percent charitable match that reduces the cost of applying for deferred action by $155.
Those Dreamers accepted into the program are required to pay between $31 and $62 each month to the lending circle until they pay off the $310 interest-free loan. Not only does it help them pay the fee but it also allows them to build up credit scores.
"We provide affordable financial programs for people who can't open bank accounts or get credit," explained Tara Robinson, Mission Asset Fund's communications and development director. "For folks applying for deferred action $465 is a big barrier if they can't legally work or have a family with kids."
The process of applying for deferred action is onerous, with applicants having to send in binders of paperwork and documentation to prove they meet the program's criteria for acceptance. Cruz, who sent in his application November 2, had to obtain letters from police departments in both San Mateo and San Francisco, since he lived in both places, showing that he does not have a criminal record.
His folder of materials documenting his nearly three decades of being in the U.S. includes awards he received while in school, such as the plaque he received in 1998 for being named Youth of the Year by the San Francisco Boys and Girls Club Mission Branch, and his diploma from John O'Connell High School.
He recently received word by mail from the Department of Homeland Security that it had received his application and payment check. Now Cruz is waiting to be scheduled for a biometrics appointment, which is the next step in the process.
Cerritos's application has been delayed since he could not locate his birth certificate. He contacted relatives in Honduras to ask them to obtain a copy of it, and it is now "in transit."
"It's being mailed from Honduras, so he'll soon be able to apply," Cruz wrote in an email this week.
As of early November close to 60 youth had enrolled in Mission Asset Fund's lending circles program. About five had already been approved for deferred action, and another 43 had submitted their applications.
Once their applications are granted, Cerritos and Cruz hope to find stable employment.
"I'll probably be working," said Cerritos when asked what he hoped his life would be like by this time next year.
"I'd like to be managing my own store and going to night school," said Cruz. "My kids will be here so I will probably be driving."
Mission Asset Fund is trying to raise $20,000 for its lending circles program and has collected more than $1,000 toward its goal. To donate, visit https://rally.org/dreamers.