DES MOINES, Iowa — Hector Salamanca came to the United States with his parents from Mexico in 1996, he said, when he was just three years old. They came here with about $75 to their name, and quickly settled in a one-bedroom apartment here in Des Moines with Salamanca’s uncle.
Typical of a DREAMer — he doesn’t remember the journey into the country. He still has relatives in Mexico, but considers Des Moines his home. And he has come up through the United States’ education system. Now, he’s a student at Drake University in Des Moines. And he wants eventually to go into the Marines.
Yet he lives in a state home to perhaps the most prominent immigration hawk in Congress — Rep. Steve King. The key to advancing DREAMers’ cause and beating people like King, he said, is by focusing on stories like his — stories of young, undocumented immigrants who are as much a part of the U.S. as others who have been here virtually their entire lives.
“We don’t have the power to push the Republican Party to adopt immigration reform in its platform,” Salamanca (pictured above) told Fusion in an interview. “It’s just not there. Whether that’s cynical or not is up for debate. But that’s our reality. There’s people in the Senate and the House that are not going to budge on this issue.
“Our focus is shifting more to education rather than politics. We find that you create more empathy that way when you articulate that these students have been here so long.”
Shunned by the party during the 2013 immigration debate, King has become something of a 2016 kingmaker in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, all the while pushing the party further right on immigration.
He vehemently opposes President Barack Obama’s executive actions from both 2011, which benefit young DREAMers, and from late last year, which extend those benefits to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants. When a DREAMer was invited as First Lady Michelle Obama’s guest to the State of the Union address last week, he denounced her as “deportable.”
Last weekend, he invited some of the GOP’s top presidential prospects to Iowa for the Freedom Summit. For more than nine hours, the candidates attempted to brandish their conservative credentials — including on immigration.
“I see it as a way to fire up the Steve King branch of the Republican Party,” Salamanca said of the summit. “It solidifies his image as a voice in the Republican Party, and that’s unfortunate.
“Clearly, he is doing something correct on his part to deal with his public and those who support him,” Salamanca continued. “Every other method that has been used against him to unseat him hasn’t worked. So we have to try something new.”
Kenia Calderon Ceron bemoans the reputation bestowed upon what she considers her home state by King’s comments. Ceron, another 21-year-old DREAMer, came to the United States from El Salvador with her parents at the age of 11. She has lived in Des Moines for almost a decade. And, like Salamanca, she graduated from Dowling High School and now attends Drake.
Ceron knows her state gets a bad rap on immigration nationally, but she sees different aspects in motion within her own community.
There is the increasing Latino community in and around Des Moines, which she has noticed build up in the past decade. There are undocumented parents working two to three jobs to provide their children an education. And there are the DREAMers who have gone on to become engineers, businesspeople, teachers.
Both Ceron and Salamanca say all presidential candidates should reach out to their community. And they delivered a warning if they don’t.
“We’re going to remember,” Ceron said. “We’re going to remember everything they tried to do to limit us.”
With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in effect, many young DREAMers’ fears are gone, for the moment. Ceron can drive everywhere without the fear of being pulled over and, quite possibly, deported. Now, she drives her parents — who are also undocumented — everywhere. She never had a job, resorting to helping her mother clean homes in the summers. After DACA, she obtained a work permit.
“It just changed the way I saw what I could do in this country,” she said.
But a significant fear still lingers in the back of their minds: What if it’s ever gone?
The next president can, with one stroke of his or her pen, revoke the executive actions Obama put through that implemented programs like DACA, putting millions of undocumented immigrants once again at risk of deportation.
“With the whole uncertainty for the next presidential election and the way the Congress is structured now, we’re timid about” immigration reform, Salamanca said of himself and his family. “We’re not all gung-ho. We’ve been hoping and praying, hoping and praying. And nothing’s happened. So for my family, this is the last straw.”
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.