Luis Tapia would finally get a driver’s license.
Marilú Saldaña would visit her mom in Mexico before it’s too late.
Karina Ruiz De Diaz would register to vote — something she’s helped thousands of others do, but never had a chance to do herself.
They’re among the undocumented immigrants President Joe Biden has pledged to help with a new bill he’s pushing Congress to pass. The measure, which lawmakers unveiled Thursday, would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million people who’ve been living in limbo for years.
Undocumented immigrants across the country told CNN they’re hoping the President will make good on his promise.
They shared fears about their families’ safety, dreams for their futures and concerns they have about whether politicians in Washington will actually protect them. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
He says getting driver’s licenses would be a game changer for his family
Luis Tapia, 19 • Cook • Lives in: Wisconsin • Country of origin: Mexico
“I’m applying for DACA now. It would be great if there were protection for my parents, too, so that they wouldn’t be afraid of being in this country anymore — afraid of going out in the street, or to the supermarket, that they might get stopped without a license. It’s the terror we’ve always lived with. We came here when I was less than 1 year old. It wasn’t until the deportations under Obama were starting that they told me we didn’t have papers — that I realized any time the police could stop us and send us back to a country I don’t even know.
“My dad is a cook and my mom is a prep cook. Whenever they go to work, that’s 30 minutes of fear not knowing if they’re going to get stopped. We’re terrified during this time that something is going to happen to them. We’re always sending each other text messages that we arrived somewhere safely or made it home.
“We’ll see what happens in the next three months. We never know if something is going to change for our families, and if the changes will help us or create more terror for us. I hope it helps our family stay together and protected.
“The first thing that we would do is get our driver’s licenses so we can drive wherever we want in this country and not have any problems. That’s something we’ve always wanted, to be able to go to another state or another place without being afraid.”
He worries his aging parents won’t ever be able to rest
Glo Harn Choi, 28 • Community organizer • Lives in: Illinois • Country of Origin: South Korea
“If the immigration bill that President Biden is proposing were to pass as it currently stands, that would put me on a track to eventually apply for a green card and then citizenship. But I think for me what stands out particularly is the timeframe for that.
“I’ve had to work since the age of 15 to support our family financially. I worked in hospitality — as a server, busboy, host, bartender, dishwasher, delivery driver, and then also I worked as a painter. And I work on the side as a photographer. That’s tough, especially when you’re a young guy. You see all your friends, a lot of them who just kind of want to live their youth. And I think a lot about how I wish I could have done that as well. But really what stands out is that my parents’ age is catching up with them. My mom works in hospitality. She’s a caterer. Every time I see her, I can see how that physical work is really taking a toll on her. I work with people that are around the same age as my mom, and my mom looks so much older than her contemporaries because of the amount of work that she has to do.
“So the timeline for this [bill], what it means to me is that I don’t know if my mom has eight years left to be able to rest, to be able to retire, which I think is a right of every person to be able to rest after dedicating their entire lives to surviving. I don’t want her just to live to survive.
“[As for what I would do if I became a citizen,] it’s a thought that I’ve had to suppress for such a long time because for so long there just was no pathway. It was really just about survival. It’s kind of hard to think about those kinds of things when you’re really focused on not dying.
“I’d love to be able to travel to Korea. I’d love to be able to see and explore some of my roots, because I’ve never had that opportunity. I lost so much of myself because of something as trifling as the idea of legal status.”
She’s ready to register to vote and one day return to the career she left behind
Karina Ruiz De Diaz, 36 • Nonprofit executive director • Lives in: Arizona • Country of Origin: Mexico
“The first thing that I would do is register to vote. I have helped so many people register to vote in the last five years, I lost count. It’s more than 1,000 or 2,000 people, because I wanted them to be a voice for me. I wanted them to understand the power that they have in deciding who represents them.
“I have felt voiceless because in Arizona voters passed a law that says I have to show proof of legal residency for in-state tuition. Because of that law, it took me 12 years to graduate from college with a bachelor of science in biochemistry that I’m not using right now. I’m not working in my field because I have to be fighting this fight. My life and the lives of people like myself who qualified for DACA, and people who did not, were on the line the last four years. This fight took priority.
“I dream of going back to my field one day. I want to teach science. I want to do research. When I’m a citizen I could go back to doing that, knowing I have grown leaders in the community who can carry on the work of the nonprofit.”
He’s been waiting in limbo for decades and wants to see the world
Jose Antonio Vargas, 39 • Nonprofit founder • Lives in: California • Country of origin: The Philippines
“This bill is absolutely welcomed. But I’m not naive either, I know that it will be very difficult to pass this legislation. This is an uphill climb, but this is a really good start. The administration has drawn a line in the sand.
“People who I’m meeting for the first time, wherever I am — in Mississippi or in Wisconsin or in Iowa — the number one question I always get asked is, ‘Why don’t you just get yourself legal?’ It never ceased to shock me how people don’t understand immigration as a process. The Biden-Harris administration is making it very clear that we are making this process for people. People like me haven’t been able to adjust their status because there wasn’t a process.
“I cannot wait to have a US passport and be able to see the world. I would go to the Philippines and I would go see my mom. It’s hard to live a life when you don’t know when you can fully live it. This process is something that I’ve been waiting for, for decades now. And I’ve met people who are in their 50s and 60s who have been waiting for decades.
“Today I was thinking about this man I met years ago in Oklahoma. He was 48, and had been working construction jobs and restaurant jobs. He wrote to me and he said, ‘I have been here for 25 years and I really want to know more of my country. I want to visit New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Hollywood. But I’m afraid to go to the airport because I don’t have documents.’ He’s not just a worker, he’s an American — he just doesn’t have any documents. And he said, ‘I hope one day we can fix our situation and I can know my country.’ When I hear about this bill, I think of people like him.”
She wants her mom to meet her children
Marilú Saldaña, 29 • Server • Lives in: Pennsylvania • Country of origin: Mexico
“A path to citizenship would be amazing for me. The first thing I would do would be go and visit my mom who I haven’t seen in 15 years. It’s very sad because we both have been through difficult times. I’ve been really sick. She’s been really sick, and I haven’t been able to help her. She hasn’t been able to meet my kids, her grandchildren. I’m so afraid that one day she’s just not going to be in this world anymore, and I didn’t even get to see her again.
“I have two kids who are US citizens. Right now I’m working on getting my GED because when my dad got deported [14 years ago] I had to drop out of school because I didn’t have enough money to pay my rent and utilities. My biggest goal here is to be able to go to college. I want to be a nurse. That’s all I have on my mind. I want to show my kids that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can still make something of yourself.
“I don’t want to get too excited [about the bill] and get a broken heart again because nothing happened. But I feel like my mom’s getting older and older. I’m also getting older. I just feel like I’m running out of time.”
She wants to feel safe when she goes outside
Morelys, 19 • High school senior • Lives in: Maryland • Country of origin: Dominican Republic
“When we came to this country, I knew that I was going to be undocumented, but I didn’t know what that meant — just how we are treated, not being able to get health insurance. Everything around the medical system, it seems so unfair sometimes. We had to deal with Covid in our house. My mom was very, very bad at one point. She could not even breathe. But she refused to go to the hospital, because we knew what that meant. We all knew that we could not afford it.
“I want to go to college. But as an undocumented immigrant not even having DACA, a lot of the scholarships that are there for undocumented students do not even apply to me. I feel very limited about everything that I want to do. And I feel like this bill could help with that — and also with the fear that I have every day. Every time that I come out of my house, I feel like I will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It would be a relief for me, just going outside and being treated with the dignity that I deserve as a human being. That’s basically how my life will change if this passes.
“Besides being an immigrant, I am a Black woman in this country. I am afraid of the police and try to avoid them. I’ve never been in situations where there are a lot of people in the same place, because I feel like if something happens, things can get out of control. I also do not travel long distances. I have family in Miami and I’ve never gone to see them. Because even if I take a long ride in the car, I feel like at some point I might be stopped and the police might give my information to ICE. At school, whenever there’s a field trip or something like that and I feel like it will be in a place close to federal buildings, I just try to not go. That is how scared I am.”
He lived the last three years in a church. Now he’s praying for Biden’s plan
José Chicas, 55 • Pastor/business owner • Lives in: North Carolina • Country of Origin: El Salvador
“There is great hope that he [Biden] is going to help us — millions of families. But we still have to wait and see what will happen.
“I’ve lived in this country for 35 years. Not having this protection has affected us in all parts of our lives.
“This would make such a big difference. With permanent residence you can leave the country and go to any other country and come back. And with citizenship, it’s even better, because you can have a voice and vote in this nation.
“If I had that, I would go around helping people who need help. I would like to vote so I can support people who need it.”