Nov. 30 was the busiest day Jose Ocampo can remember and one that will potentially affect his future in the United States. A recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, the Wingate University junior spoke at the National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C., that morning, and spent the rest of the day hustling from one lawmaker’s office to the next sharing his story and pushing for a legislative fix for the rescinded policy that has left some 800,000 immigrants in limbo.
Born in Buena Vista de Cuellar, a small town in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, almost 23 years ago, Ocampo was 2 months old when his family brought him to Charlotte, where they’ve lived in the same apartment for two decades.
“I grew up thinking I was normal,” Ocampo says. “I was a Mexican-American, an American kid who could speak Spanish.” It wasn’t until he was in third or fourth grade, when he heard a mention of “illegal immigrants” on the news and asked his dad about it, that he learned of his family’s status. Fast-forward to his sophomore year of high school, and Ocampo was attending a seminar for potential applicants for the Bill Gates Scholarship and getting more excited by the minute when a speaker reminded the crowd that applicants must be citizens or legal residents.
“I looked at my mom, and she didn’t make much eye contact with me,” Ocampo says. “And I realized, ‘OK, this is what it means to be an illegal immigrant. This is what it’s like. These are the hardships.’ It was definitely a blow to me to think I’m striving for college and then I’m not going to be able to go to college.”
But much of that changed with DACA.
Blessings and fears
“DACA has been a blessing in my life,” Ocampo says. “It has opened doors for me and given me opportunities.” DACA also heightened some fears for him and for other “dreamers.”
“You are being extremely vulnerable when you apply, because you are letting them know, ‘Hey, listen, I came here illegally. Here I am, you know where I live, you know who my family is,’” Ocampo says. “That was one of the biggest fears for a lot of dreamers, this realization that ‘I am about to expose my whole family.’”
It was his family’s faith that gave him the courage to sign on.
“My parents are God-fearing people,” says Ocampo, who works part-time as a youth director for the Latin American campus of Hickory Grove Baptist. “I’m very grateful to my parents because they’ve been so supportive this whole time.”
Even with DACA status, Ocampo has faced challenges. He doesn’t qualify for in-state tuition at North Carolina’s public universities and hit a roadblock when he applied to be a police cadet.
“I work with the (Charlotte-Mecklenburg) police department with Cops and Kids, which is a way to bridge the gap between Hispanic kids and police officers,” Ocampo says. “We need this, especially for minorities. I know the fears they have about police officers.”
After volunteering with the program for a year and undergoing a summer of training, Ocampo was informed that he could not become a cadet because of his status. Even so, he’s maintained his relationships with local officers and continues to help build bridges.
With his DACA status, Ocampo was able to get a job and register for classes at Central Piedmont Community College. After two years there, he came to Wingate in the fall to pursue a degree in marketing and a minor in accounting, with plans to attend seminary. Ocampo’s hope is to be a pastor, and he says Wingate’s Porter Byrum School of Business will help prepare him for both managing church finances and preaching.
“One of the things I’ve learned in marketing is that you have to understand who your audience is,” Ocampo says. “It’s the same when you share the Gospel.”
In Washington, he preached a simple message to legislative staffers: “Not granting a pathway to a legalized status means removing and ruining the lives of almost 800,000 young adults who have grown to love and call this country home. To cancel DACA would be to take away the opportunity of hardworking and innovative individuals who only want to see their home flourish.”
“To take a dreamer out of their city or home is to take a piece of that city away,” Ocampo said during a podcast recorded during his whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital. “My hope is to continue to grow and prosper with my city and at the end of the day to achieve my parents’ goal. They sacrificed everything so my brother and I could have everything.”
Ocampo says his parents’ risky journey motivates him to continue to be involved in the community, with the police department and with his church. It was his work there that landed him in D.C. and has given him a chance to speak out about DACA. Hickory Grove was hosting an immigration seminar early one weekday morning, and Ocampo’s pastor encouraged him to go.
“I met Alan Cross with the Bibles, Badges and Business organization and also spoke with Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum,” Ocampo says. Within about 10 days, he received a message from Cross, asking him to travel to Washington, D.C., with the NIF to tell his story and help build the case for DACA legislation.
Ocampo didn’t hesitate.
“Especially with the cancellation of DACA, we have to voice who we are or there will not be much change offered,” he says of dreamers. “I get motivated when I hear other people tell their stories and I learn they are DACA recipients, so I’m hoping to motivate others.”
Ocampo says that the legislative staffers he met with were receptive and that he feels there is momentum in Washington for a legislative solution to DACA. Exactly what the proposed law might look like is still unclear. He is hopeful that lawmakers understand the ramifications of not passing legislation and remember that although they were brought to the country as minors, many DACA recipients are now adults and have children who are U.S. citizens by birth.
“If they get deported, their families will be split up,” he says.
Support from the community
The September announcement that DACA had been rescinded halted applications to the program beginning in early October and included a six-month window for Congress to pass legislation.
Ocampo says he has always felt strong support from his faith community and wants to encourage other dreamers to turn their worries into positive action.
“I believe in a sovereign God and find my peace in Him whenever I start to feel anxiety,” he says. “I have come to terms with the fact that it isn’t my job to solve this whole problem. My job is to stay strong for others, to be supportive and to do what I can.”
In addition to being willing to speak out as part of formal events like those sponsored by the NIF, Ocampo is also promoting the efforts of the Evangelical Immigration Table via its #PowerToAct campaign. He’s hopeful that his friends at Wingate and beyond will visit www.PowerToAct.org and follow the prompts there to contact their lawmakers and express support for a legislative solution for dreamers.
“I know I’m not the only dreamer at Wingate,” Ocampo says. “It’s comforting to know that there are lots of people out there fighting for this cause.”
Dec. 14, 2017