One night in February, when I had been working as a driver for Uber and Lyft almost a year, I got a call from a friend. He asked me to drive three hours from Los Angeles to a place near San Diego to pick up his uncle and cousin and drive them back to L.A., and said he would pay the going rate. I had no idea that picking up that fare would change my life.
It turned out his relatives had just entered the country illegally — but I didn’t know that. I never even met them. At the spot where I was to pick them up, immigration agents arrested me. Even though I was never charged with a crime and a judge believed that I did not smuggle anyone, a few days later I got a notice that my Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was terminated. So I’m fighting back by joining a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of young people whose DACA has been unjustly revoked by the Trump administration.
My family had moved from Durango, México, to the United States when I was one. My three younger sisters were born in the United States, and are citizens, and my parents now have green cards. I’m the only one in my family who is undocumented, but I’ve had DACA status since I graduated from high school in 2012. DACA has allowed me to work to pay half my parents’ rent each month and contribute to my sisters’ expenses. I’ve also been a primary caregiver for my 17-year-old sister Lupe, who has disabilities including autism, Down’s syndrome, and diabetes, and needs insulin shots every few hours.
What happened to me shows me that we need a bigger solution
That February night, I met my friend at 9 pm. He told me to take another relative of his – a young cousin – along on the drive. When we reached the destination, my passenger jumped out of the car. In the moonlight, we saw a person standing in the dark. I thought that was strange, because I was supposed to be picking up two people, not one.
The man turned around, and I realized it was a Border Patrol agent. He said, “What are you doing here?” He called for backup, and another guy appeared.
I showed them my driver’s license, told them I had DACA, and showed my work permit. I told them I worked as a driver and showed my GPS record saying where I’d picked up my passenger. They arrested us both. They took me to a holding cell nearby and I was not allowed to call my mom to tell her where I was.
I found out the agents had arrested me because they thought I was a smuggler, because the two people I was supposed to pick up had apparently just crossed the border illegally. I had no idea about any of this. But the agents said I was getting deported.
I kept thinking, I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t smuggle anyone. I never even saw the people I’m accused of smuggling!
I was held in a room with seven or eight other men, with no beds and just a little bench. The next day, I was transferred to a detention center in Chula Vista, California, where I was finally allowed to call my family. I told my mom what had happened to me, and I talked to my sister Lupe, too. She was crying. “I love you,” I said, as we were hanging up.
“Bye, I love you,” she said — for the first time ever. Usually she doesn’t articulate her emotions like that. I started crying too. The thought of getting deported and never seeing her again was breaking my heart.
After a week, several of us, chained from our hands to our hips to our feet, were loaded onto a bus and driven to a detention facility in San Luis, Arizona. A few days later, they chained us up again to go to the Phoenix airport, where we were flown to Georgia. Twenty days after my arrest, I got a bond hearing before an immigration judge in Folkston, Georgia. The judge found that I was not involved in human smuggling, and ordered me released on bond.
A few days later, I was home with my family. Days after that, I got notice that my DACA was terminated. This means that I lost my jobs. I can’t give money to my parents for rent, Lupe’s medical needs, and my other sisters’ school supplies. And I’m afraid I could be deported.
My girlfriend and I are expecting our first child, a boy, on Christmas Day. I want to be here to raise him. I grew up taking care of my sister Lupe. I want to keep holding her hand when she’s walking down the street. I know L.A. like the back of my hand — the lookout spot on Mulholland Drive, the beach in Malibu, the best Korean barbeque — and I want to continue the life I’ve lived here since I was a baby. I don’t want an unfounded accusation to take everything I love away from me. I joined the lawsuit to restore my DACA status and to make sure others don’t go through the same experience.
What happened to me shows me that we need a bigger solution. Please fight for legislation to create a path to permanent status for people like me. We all need to fight for the country we want to live in.
If you or someone you know have had DACA unfairly revoked, please contact the ACLU at DACArevoked@aclu.org.
Jesús Arreola is a 23-year-old resident of the Los Angeles area. He has lived in the U.S. since he was one year old. DHS found him eligible for and granted him DACA in 2012, 2014, and again in 2016. At the time that DHS terminated his DACA, Arreola was working two jobs to help support his family — as a cook at the famed Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood and as a driver for Uber and Lyft.