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With DACA in Limbo, Financial Analyst Focuses on What She Can Control

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Janeth Medina, 26, listens to funding pitches from nonprofits at a meeting of Latina philanthropists in San Francisco on Sept. 14, 2017. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Key parts of Janeth Medina's future, including her ability to keep her job in finance, depend on the fate of a program that protects her and about 200,000 immigrants living in California from deportation.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, now at the center of a heated immigration debate nationwide, has been critical to her journey. Because of the program, Medina, the daughter of farmworker immigrants in Bakersfield, has been able to access and climb the corporate ladder of San Francisco's high-powered world of finance.

As Medina grapples with an uncertain future, she tries to focus on the personal choices she can control. When she contemplates the possibility of losing DACA if Congress and President Trump are unable to reach a deal, she reminds herself of an old Mexican proverb.

"It goes, 'They tried to bury us but they didn't know we were seeds,' " said Medina, 26, on a recent morning. "That's so powerful 'cause it's true. You want to attack my humanity? I’m going to keep on being human, and I’m going to keep giving back, keep loving. I'll just continue to move forward, whatever that looks like."

Medina Speaks Up 

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The first time I met Medina was last September, just days after the Trump administration announced it was phasing out DACA. Medina and a dozen other Latina philanthropists in San Francisco were sitting around a conference room table, talking about how they responded to the news.

"This is really personal for me,"  said Medina, an analyst for Bank of the West. "So I went directly to some of the members of our executive management and I was like, 'Where do you stand? Do you support me? And if you do, how do you support me?' "

Medina said the bank's CEO ended up writing a statement saying that the bank stood by its DACA employees, offering legal aid or sponsorship of renewal applications.

"I was really proud to just stand up and speak up!" she said to applause from the group of bankers, teachers and tech workers.

Next, it was Claudia Hernandez’s turn to speak. The project manager at Facebook said the president's DACA decision saddened her because it affects many people she knows. So she was contacting members of Congress.

"I hold myself accountable now to calling every single week for the next six months to ask for something permanent," said Hernandez, 26, Medina's roommate and best friend.

Both women came to the U.S. with their parents from Mexico as kids. They grew up in California with little money, Medina in Bakersfield and Hernandez in San Jose, and met their freshman year at Mills College in Oakland.

Both worked hard to land scholarships and graduate. They launched their careers, and now they are donating money to Bay Area non-profits. They want to give others the kind of support they received.

"I'm a product of all that help," Hernandez said. "That's why I want to give back now because I know so many people need it."

But for all their similarities, the two women have one major difference. While Medina fears losing her DACA status and everything she has worked for, Hernandez is now a U.S. citizen. She was able to become a permanent resident years ago.

Regardless of what Congress or Trump decide on immigration, Hernandez can keep her job without worrying about deportation, and travel outside the country without fear that she might not make it back.

Janeth Medina, a DACA recipient, makes herself breakfast at her home in Oakland on Jan. 28 2018. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Preparing for the Possibility of Losing her Job

When I visited Medina in Oakland one recent Sunday morning, Hernandez was not there.

"Yeah, Claudia went to Mexico to visit some family. I’ll miss her but that’s OK," said Medina, and she headed to the kitchen to make oatmeal with dried cranberries, cinnamon and almond milk for breakfast.

Medina said sometimes she'll premix that meal on Sunday nights in individual mason jars and leave them in her fridge to grab each morning the following week.

"I just grab it and run before I go to work," said Medina. "It's pretty good!"

She may not know what her long-term future holds, but she is choosing to focus on things in her life she can control. One important goal for her, in case she can't keep her job when her DACA permit expires in less than a year, is saving money.

"I like to prepare and think about, 'If this were to happen, what are you going to do next?' Medina said. "How can I best prepare so I can continue to support myself and continue to support my family?"

A recent promotion and pay raise will help with that, said Medina, now a vice president in national strategy at the bank.

She watches immigration news, but she said she's determined not to panic.

"I'm still focusing on the things that I have control over and continuing to live my life however I'm living it. I'm not stopping," she said.

'We'll Figure it out Together'

Medina's parents, both in their 50s, still wake at 3 a.m. to pick oranges, mandarins and other crops. They live in a trailer on a ranch in Bakersfield, where Medina's father is a foreman. Medina and her two brothers, who also have DACA, are helping their parents buy a property where they can retire.

"Everything that we do is very closely knitted and it's always thinking about each other," she said.

That is why she's disappointed in the latest White House proposal that would grant citizenship to 1.8 million Dreamers like herself in exchange for sharp cuts to family-based migration, which would also bar Medina's ability to sponsor her parents.

"My driver is my family," she said. "So if you're not including my family in these decisions, I just don't feel like that's right or fair."

Medina's parents didn't want their names used in this story because of their immigration status. But Medina's mother said the current rhetoric from Washington, D.C. on immigration, feels "limiting."

"Our dreams here are that our kids get the opportunity to fulfill their potential," said Medina's mother in Spanish, adding that she is praying so that the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have a good future.

"We shouldn't lose our faith or hope," she said. Medina agreed.

"If something happens that unfortunately won't benefit me or my family, then we'll figure it out together like we've always done," Medina said.

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