My earliest memory is of the day I first came to Portland. I was five years old, and my family had just arrived from Michoacan, México. The city seemed enormous — it seemed like every time you turned the corner, it kept growing. It feels like my life started on that day, the day I came to Portland.
Today, after spending my entire life here, the city feels small, because I know every part of it. I love hiking around the city, eating Voodoo Doughnuts, and watching the Blazers and the Timbers. This place — Portland — is who I am.
Growing up, I was just like everyone else. I started school at Glenfair Elementary, and I went all the way through to Reynolds High School with the same kids I knew from kindergarten. We learned to read together. We bought Slurpees at the 7-11 together. We played disc golf in the park together.
No one ever questioned my immigration status, so it took me years to realize that I had no legal status. My younger brother and sister, who are now 13 and 19, were born in the United States, and they’re U.S. citizens. But as high school graduation got closer and closer, I started to wonder about my future: What happens next? How will I go about my life? Can I go to college? Can I look for a job?
Suddenly, I felt different, and I was scared.
I started to think it would be better if I stayed out of the spotlight. I thought twice about attending soccer games or neighborhood events — immigration agents could be there. For the most part, I didn’t tell my friends about my status — I was afraid their image of me would change somehow.
Then almost three years ago, after President Obama enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, I applied for it. DACA status would mean that I could attend school and work. I wouldn’t need to be afraid. When I got DACA, I was full of excitement at getting a chance. I was a dreamer.
Since then, I’ve taken classes at Mt. Hood Community College. I started volunteering at Glenfair Elementary, the same school I attended. I got a job as a teachers’ assistant where I work one-on-one with kids who need help, and I also work in the afterschool program. I volunteered at the church my family had been attending for decades.
Then last December, I was arrested for driving under the influence. I made several wrong decisions that night. But I have made several right decisions since then. I am in treatment. I signed up for a diversion program, and I showed up for all my court dates. I was on my way to completing all the requirements to get this DUI expunged from my records. I started working a third job organizing a food pantry for low-income families.
Around 7:30 on Sunday morning March 26, when my whole family was sleeping, we were woken up by loud banging at the door. Half-asleep, at first I thought it was the neighbor kids asking for my little brother to come out and play. But the banging was too loud and urgent. I got up, and my sister answered the door. Officers asked for me. My sister closed the door and came upstairs.
I was getting dressed to go see what they wanted when she said, “I think they’re immigration.”
I stopped cold and called Father Roberto Maldonado, the priest of our Episcopal church, who tried to calm me down. All the way inside my house, I could hear the agents yelling my name outside. I was scared.
I quickly hung up and went downstairs to talk to them. Before I opened the door, I turned around and looked at my whole family. They looked so afraid. I told them to stay calm and let me handle it and figure it out. Then I went outside.
The next thing I knew, I was in handcuffs and inside their car. I thought, Where are we going? What’s happening? The ICE agents told me I would lose DACA and took me first to a facility in Portland, and then all the way to Tacoma, Washington.
The funny thing is, even as this was happening, I still couldn’t imagine being deported. Life in México feels totally foreign to me — I’m from Portland.
I didn’t know it at the time, but while I was in the detention center, people came out from every part of my life to fight for my release. They called anyone who would listen, and my story started to spread quickly.
You don’t have to have grown up here in Portland like I did to know that my city knows how to fight back against injustice. People demanding my release flooded the telephone lines at the ICE facility where I was being held. A rally was organized. Thousands of people shared information on social media.
Incredibly, a day and half after ICE detained me, I was released on bond.
When I think about everyone who fought for me, I am so moved and totally overwhelmed. But I realize it’s about more than just me. The people who rallied or called on my behalf made it clear that they reject these policies that are tearing families apart. They know that no one who grew up here should be ripped away from their home.
On March 31st, ICE revealed that I was swept up in a three-day enforcement action that covered the entire Pacific Northwest. Eighty-three other people were caught in this dragnet, including at least three other DACA recipients.
I still face deportation proceedings. The idea is still unimaginable to me because Portland is my home. And after seeing so many Oregonians fight for me, I know I’m right where I belong.
To my fellow Dreamers: Even though things feel scary, I still say, don’t be afraid. We cannot be forced back into the shadows. Know your rights with ICE (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSIX4GBP5es). Spread the word in your community. That’s what I will be doing in Portland.
Francisco Rodríguez, Dreamer.