After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston on Aug. 25, Lucia Guerrero spent several days at a crowded clinic, delivering life-saving kidney dialysis to desperate patients whose regular treatment centers were waist-deep in floodwaters.
Now, the 26-year-old “Dreamer” from Rosharon, Texas, is worried that her own life will be at risk if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is terminated in six months and she is forced to move back to Mexico — a country her family left when she was 10. She and nearly 800,000 other young undocumented immigrants are at risk for deportation if the program ends.
“My hometown of Monterrey is overrun with violence and drug lords,” Guerrero, a dialysis technician at Fresnius Kidney Care, tells PEOPLE. “People who are kidnapped rarely return home, and criminals view Americans or anyone else living in the U.S. as rich. If I were to go back, people would notice my English and think that I’m valuable in a sinister way.”
Guerrero, who is single and lives with her parents and two brothers in a house that she helped pay for by diligently saving her earnings for years, is frustrated and confused by mixed messages from the Trump administration about the end of DACA.
On Thursday morning, just two days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would end in six months unless Congress found a solution to keep “Dreamers” in the United States, President Donald Trump tweeted, “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!”
Trump reportedly put out the tweet at the request of House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, but Lucia says his reassurance rings hollow.
“My future is no longer in my hands — it’s out of my control,” she tells PEOPLE. “I feel anguish and stress, like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m hoping and praying now that he actually makes Congress work on a pathway to citizenship. Faith is all I’m holding on to right now.”
It was 2001 when Guerrero’s parents had a temporary visa approved to come to the United States with her and her two brothers, Daniel, now 28, and Sebastian, now 18.
“They wanted to leave because there were no jobs available and life was very hard,” she says. “After we lost our house, they decided to try and give me and my brothers a better life.”
Her parents, who do not wish to be identified, became stuck in the same dilemma as other immigrants after their visa expired, says Guerrero.
“We would have had to return to Mexico to apply again, and by then, this was our home,” she says. “Because my parents can’t legally have regular jobs and can only do handy work, it became up to me and my brothers to support all of us. It’s something that I am grateful to do. I am happy to return the favor because my mom and dad brought us here and got us an education.”
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Guerrero and her brothers were relieved in 2012 when DACA was implemented by the Obama administration to protect them and other undocumented “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children.
“Finally, we could come out of the shadows,” she tells PEOPLE. “We were able to get work permits and renew them every two years. I received my certification as a dialysis technician and I’m dreaming of going to nursing school. But now I wonder, ‘Will that happen? Will we all be forced to return to Mexico?’ ”
She compares her dilemma to that of a newly planted sapling.
“Just as I was starting to grow,” says Guerrero, “I am now caught in a storm and I’m in limbo. I feel like a little crooked tree, when I want to be big and strong and sturdy with a future of healthy growth. I am now being shaken by my roots. I worry whether I will make it. Is everything I have dreamed of and worked for now at risk?’ ”
Until the DACA issue is resolved, she intends to continue to show up for work every morning and make a difference in the lives of people who rely on her skill and knowledge to provide life-saving dialysis treatments.
“The people who come here are so kind — they are cheering me on, hoping for a positive outcome,” she says. “They are very thankful. And I am thankful for them.”