He was five when he crossed the Rio Grande into Texas on the shoulders of his uncle.
His legs were too short to keep up with his uncle and mother. He remembers being grabbed by the hand and whisked through the air, his little feet barely touching the ground. On the other side, Juan and his family had to run to reach a safe house before the Border Patrol agents could spot them.
The safe house was in Eagle Pass, Texas, far from his birthplace in Patzcuaro, Michoacán. This was the beginning of Juan’s journey to reunite his family with his father in Dallas.
Juan Velazquez, a computer engineering student at the University of North Texas, is one of the estimated 1 million undocumented students in the United States. When he graduates, Juan will be the first in the family to have a college degree.
He and his family spent nearly two decades moving from town to town until they settled in Plano, Texas. Growing up, Juan remembers living in fear. His parents would warn him to stay away from public places and not to share his secret with anyone.
Now 19, Juan has lived in Texas for 15 years. Like many undocumented students who arrive as children, Juan had no choice but to make a home in the United States. His parents wanted a better life for him. A life he wouldn’t be able to have in Mexico.
Like many teenage boys, Juan had a passion for cars. He was fascinated by how they worked, how they looked, how they sounded. But driving one was a far away dream. Without a legal immigration status, Juan could not get a driver’s license. He drove anyway.
Juan’s fear of being caught became real every time he passed through surprise checkpoints set to catch drivers without licenses. Behind the wheel, every turn he took around the neighborhood made his palms sweat. His eyes would dart, scanning for black police cruisers.
“I didn’t like that I was technically breaking the law,” he says.
In January 2013 Juan was accepted for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA, an immigration policy announced by President Obama, provides qualified undocumented youth in the U.S. with a temporary work permit, a Social Security number, and in some states, a driver’s license. Juan received his license a few weeks later.
Juan’s drive continues. A license with his name is just the first step towards a life out of the shadows.