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The Moment I Realized The US Was My Home

A picture collage of a man wearing glasses standing next to a sign that reads: Welcome to the USA, Bienvenido a Los Estados Unidos; a map of the United States is overlayed in the background along with colorful paint sprays and textures.
(Dan Carino
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“Good things must come to an end” is such a cliche until you live it.

I had dreamed of visiting Mexico all my life. I wanted to see my family in person and learn about my history; explore different parts of the country like my friends. Y obviamente, eat good food, too. But I could hear the clock tik-tok louder as days passed by.

Seventeen days were not enough for this trip of a lifetime; my first time back in my birth country and visit to my hometown of Ciudad Mendoza, Veracruz.

As a DACA recipient, the advance parole document I applied for (and obtained) allowed me to make the trek. But then I felt myself on my return flight back to California, with my Mexican passport in my hand, a pile of anxiety about going through U.S immigration.

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Coming back to the U.S.

There are over 580,000 active DACA recipients in this country, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Not everyone has been able to apply for advance parole. By 2017, over 45,000 beneficiaries had been approved for the travel document, preliminary Department of Homeland Security data shows.

When I shared my Going Home Con DACA series, I got a bunch of responses back on social media:

“I applied for advance parole and I am nervous.”

“How was it coming back into the country?”

“I’m going alone and I’m a little scared. I’m trying to get a little advice.”
A man with medium-tone skin wearing a tan shirt taking a selfie in front a door mirror. In the background is a pink house and other structures, and a mountain.
How to LA host Brian De Los Santos at his grandmother's house in Ciudad Mendoza, Veracruz.
(Brian De Los Santos

The thing that strikes many DACA folks is the idea of having to come back into the U.S. from another place.

The main reason why I had never taken the risk of this trip was because folks with advance parole aren’t guaranteed re-entry into the country — it says so on the letter U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sends you.

It’s scary to think about not being allowed back into the place you call home.

But, as I said in an earlier essay, I was lucky enough to have friends and a fellow DACA recipient encourage me to think about starting the process. I’m glad they provided that little push.

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About How To LA
  • We’re here to help curious Angelenos connect with others, discover the new, navigate the confusing, and even drive some change along the way. Host Brian De Los Santos brings you stories about L.A., for L.A., by L.A. — with your help. Like you, we know this city is unique, and that’s why it’s one of the reasons we love it.

The interrogation… that wasn’t

I tried to keep it cool as I grabbed my bags from the conveyor belt at the Tijuana airport. Deep down I was so nervous I didn’t even record audio to share in my podcast episode. I had made it through the Cross Border Xpress hallway and in just a few moments I was going to show up on the United States’ side and present my advance parole document.

I texted my friends that I was approaching immigration and I’d write back once I made it through. But I still had that big if in my head.

When the immigration officer saw my papers, she escorted me to a screening room and told me it would take just a few minutes. I, of course, didn’t trust her. I’d heard stories of people waiting for hours to get out of the processing room.

The Border Patrol officer who took over my case seemed friendly as I grabbed a seat. I looked over at the clock and it was past 10 p.m. He asked about my address. I sat back down. It seemed like hours passed by. But I looked at the clock and it actually had only been only seven minutes since I had entered the room. I got called back again, and this time he needed my fingerprints. I didn’t know what to think so I just read the signage on the wall — it was all immigration jargon that got blurry. Two minutes later I heard, “OK, here are your documents. You’re good.”


I made it.

I hurried to find my dad to let him know my wait was over. Before I got to him, I noticed the big sign, “Welcome to the USA.” That really hit me. I had never traveled back here from a "foreign" country so I had never seen this sign in person.

Maybe it was the pent-up anxiety over the re-entry process or the exhaustion of the 12-hour trip, but I got really emotional.

I felt it.

This also was home.

I hope this feeling — my sense of home — doesn't come to an end.

Listen to the episodes

Finding Home con DACA, Part 1: "The Process"
Finding Home con DACA, Part 2: "Hecho en México"
Finding Home con DACA, Part 3: "Outside, In"
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