Featured Spotlights

Undocumented and Unafraid

Duke student, Axel Herrera came to the United States from Honduras 12 years ago. Since President Trump began to discontinue Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Herrera, a DACA recipient, has begun sharing his story.  Through his impactful words he inspires others, taking part in a resistance movement spreading across America.    

“I am resourceful”


“Undocumented, Unafraid”

“Defend DACA”

“Dreaming is American”

“No human being is illegal”

Signs like these read out across the country, as demonstrators marched and protested the president’s latest comments on DACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) allowed those who entered the country illegally as minors to remain free from immediate deportation by applying every two years.  The program was created under former President Obama, but is being discontinued by President Trump. In response, groups around the country have been demonstrating against the ruling.

“I have nothing to lose and if there is a chance to change something then it’s worth the risk.”

“I am resilient”

read a poster at a recent Raleigh demonstration against the decision on DACA.  A simple statement, not large enough to express the anger, frustration, emotion and pride that Sophomore Axel Herrera and a group of other DACA recipients feel. Once again they are fighting a decade spanning struggle.  The same generalized narration trying to follow their stories.  The story of families risking it all for the chance at a better life.  Now these same families and particularly their children are forced to take a risk again, choosing to speak out against the actions being taken by the government.

Some choose not to share their stories, but others like Herrera take the risk of doing so.

“I have nothing to lose and if there is a chance to change something then it’s worth the risk,” Herrera said. This fight is happening all around us and Herrera and his story are helping the fight of perseverance and strength.

Herrera came to America with his mom, young cousin, and sister in March of 2005 from Honduras to meet up with his aunt and uncle in New York. The trip took 18 days as the trio moved from bus to bus crossing over the American border and heading north.  The trip is harrowing, but for a single mother traveling alone with young children it is even more so. Herrera said the journey was especially difficult for his mother, but she kept moving forward to provide the hope of a better life for her children.  From the moment that they arrived in New York, Herrera’s mother worked supporting him and his sister as they moved from New York to Charlotte.  In each city, the trio had family already established in the state.  After his mother met his stepfather, they eventually settled in Durham where Axel attended high school.

“Our biggest weapon is our stories,” Herrera said.

During his freshman year of high school a teacher pulled Herrera aside and asked him about his documentation status. The teacher then proceeded to tell him about a student similar to him who recently graduated from his high school and went on to Duke with financial support. Herrera relied on that teacher for support through the rest of high school and the college application process.  Although his family always wanted him to receive an education, they had no knowledge of the process, and Herrera was the first to go through all the milestones that high school and college applications entailed. As Herrera built up local college connections, something changed: Herrera found his voice.

During his senior year, a fellow classmate was detained.  Herrera used his voice and his story to advocate for the release.  From then on Herrera continued to share his story, especially after arriving at Duke and President Trump announcing his proposal to end DACA.

“The families here have already gone through the worst. Now it is about perseverance.”

“Our biggest weapon is our stories,” Herrera said.

With the latest announcements surrounding the end of DACA, Herrera’s voice grew stronger and stronger.  Herrera said that Trump’s statement was out of the blue and the anger surrounding the decision was released slowly.  Yet he was quick to point out that this is not the end of the world.  Instead it is the time to do something.

“The families here have already gone through the worst. Now it is about perseverance.”  

Herrera is resilient, just as the poster at the Raleigh march suggested. But more than that, him and others affected by DACA are resourceful, fearless, and strong.  The different journeys taken by families have been full of obstacles that have built a quality of persistence in those now facing the backlash of the DACA announcements.  This obstacle is no different.

Herrera knows what the future will look like if DACA ends without another program in place.  However, Herrera prefers to focus on the now.

“I’m dealing more with the present – what I can do now.  My biggest fear is that we lose momentum.”  

Feeling like the current administration is not approachable, it is hard for the supporters of DACA to gain support in a polarized government.

“There are no conversations available with Trump.”  This unjust lack of communication drives an anger in Herrera that pushes him to continue sharing his story.  That and emotion and pride about himself and his family makes sure that he does not give up.

“This fight is not just for me.  My family is relying on me to be documented and this is one aspect that pushes me forward.”   

Herrera’s story is impactful, but by sharing it he puts not only himself, but his family at risk.  

“For so many of our stories are more than our own, instead they involve all the family members that helped us get to this point.”  

Although Herrera shares his story he says it is completely okay to not feel comfortable doing that.  Instead there are many different roles to play in the fight.

“I am American.  My family in Honduras is American.  My humanity is American.”

“Not sharing your story doesn’t undermine your situation, you play a role no matter what you decide to do.”

Just because your story has not been touched by this issue does not mean you should not participate in the fight.  People are educating each other about the issue, but it is not enough. We need to act upon it.  This is not the time to sit back and not be concerned because it does not affect you.  In fact, it affects you because it affects students right here at Duke.  And no one deserves to have to fight for a chance to continue living the only life they have known. In the end using the label “American” for those only in the United State is incorrect. Because anyone living  in North, Central, or South America is an American.  

“I am American.  My family in Honduras is American.  My humanity is American.”

Writer: Kat Tiscornia

Editors: Diana Joseph and Sofia Velasquez Soler

Photo Credits: Kayla Carlisle

Web: Carolyn Tang

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