Six days a week Carlos Loredo goes to work at Senor Frog’s, a Mexican restaurant in Myrtle Beach, SC, where he is operations manager. He arrives at about noon and goes home about 3 a.m. He’s been working there now for almost 15 years. Fifteen hour days are the norm for him.
But for Loredo, 29, that dedication might not be enough, even though he’s risen through the ranks from food runner at age 15 to server to floor manager to bar manager and then to operations manager at the popular Broadway at the Beach Mexican eatery. He is so highly regarded that the restaurant company has sent him to Manhattan, South Beach and Orlando, FL to open new stores and train staff.
“I guess they figured I was doing a good job,” he said with a grin.
It might not be enough to keep him in America, where he has lived since age nine, brought here from Mexico by his parents. In fact, on July 4, Independence Day, Loredo will mark his 19th anniversary in the U.S.
Loredo is a “dreamer”, a recipient of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows children of illegal immigrants to live and remain in the U.S. with certain restrictions. But despite his excellent work history and spotless record, he knows that any day now he could be deported to Mexico, which he has not known since he was a young child.
President Trump has tried to end DACA, only to be thwarted by the courts. A new merit-based immigration plan outlined by the White House this week does not address DACA because, according to Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the issue is “too divisive.”
Nevertheless, Carlos Loredo continues to rely on DACA for his right to live and work in America.
“In December, I will renew my DACA and work permit for the fourth time, which I will continue to do unless Trump takes it away, which he’s been threatening to do,” Loredo told me as we sat in a booth at the restaurant, where he is now second in command.
Carlos and his brother were brought to America by their parents in 2000, first to Houston, TX, where there are relatives, family members who came to the U.S. almost 40 years ago and are citizens. Then, when Carlos was 15, his father having returned to Mexico, he and his brother and mom moved to Myrtle Beach, where Carlos attended high school.
“I graduated from high school here, but with no papers it’s hard to go to college,” he said, as he proudly showed me images of scholarship offers and commendations for his exemplary record in high school.
“I had a really good record in school,” he said quietly. Carlos and his brother, who also works in an area restaurant, are now roommates.
Three years ago, Carlos’ father died in Mexico, but due to immigration restrictions, Carlos was unable to leave the U.S. to go to the funeral.
“I watched the funeral on my phone on live video,” he said. “It was really hard. I wanted to be there for him. It broke my heart. I think about a lot of people like me who can’t ever do that. It was a hard moment for me, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Myrtle Beach immigration attorney Donusia Lipinski explained that DACA recipients, while they are able to drive and work in the U.S., do not have legal status and have virtually no security. There is a provision that allows a DACA recipient to leave the country, but no guarantee he or she will be allowed to return.
“They can refuse to let you back in; they have that power,” said Loredo. “I couldn’t take that chance.”
In fact, for dreamers, uncertainty is a constant and the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies make that ever more difficult. There is, of course, the president’s angry rhetoric about “bad hombres” trying to come to America and his claims that those seeking refuge in the U.S. are infiltrated by drug dealers, criminals and gangsters.
Those words were turned into action with new guidelines earlier in May directing U.S. asylum officers to take a more skeptical and confrontational approach with migrants seeking refuge, with Trump’s determination to build a wall with sharp spikes at the top and painted black so it will be too hot and dangerous to climb, and a myriad of other hardline efforts and policies designed to intimidate would-be immigrants.
How does that affect Loredo?
“It makes me feel angry that the president of this country could talk like that,” he said. “We’re supposed to be the greaest country and set the example for the world. And, it makes the uncertainty that we must live with even worse. Everyone with DACA is living with that uncertainty, constantly. I love America. I know that the majority of the people don’t think like that.”
That uncertainty hit home for Loredo earlier this year.
“About six months ago I tried to buy a house,” he explained. “I was approved by three different banks. I had saved up for my down payment for years. But when I went to get my mortgage, I was told they no longer are doing loans for DACA recipients. I’ve been working every day and paying my taxes since day one. I had an appointment with a lawyer, but was told, ‘never mind, we can’t do it.’”
Loredo was victimized by a decision by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to quietly deny mortgage insurance for DACA recipients.
Nevertheless, Carlos Loredo lives the dream every day. He has a great job in which he is extremely successful. He has friends. He is involved in community activities as time permits. But he knows it all could come to an end, virtually any day, any time.
“We are living with uncertainty. Constantly,” he said.
Will the dream end? Only time will tell.