How the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals brought Rocio Lopez into the startup world

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Ruben Harris

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Ruben Harris is a professional cellist and a recovering investment banker who now leads partnerships in San Francisco for Honor, a healthcare startup focused on seniors. He is also a founder of the Breaking Into Startups podcast.

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East Palo Alto was the number one murder capital in the nation, despite being in the heart of Silicon Valley.

This is where, Rocio Lopez, a DREAMer and a Product Designer at Sumo Logic, grew up before she broke into tech.

For those of you that don’t know, the reason she’s known as a DREAMer is because DACA was a compromise that was created by the Obama Administration after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act and The DREAM Act would have given those who had arrived illegally as children an opportunity to have permanent legal residency.

Rocio’s future is now in jeopardy as President Trump recently announced that as of October 5, 2017 DACA renewals will no longer be accepted.

Rocio Lopez is a college graduate, a taxpayer and a product and interaction designer where she designs beautiful user experiences for her clients through big data analytics.

Today, she shares her story on the Breaking into Startups Podcast because there is still hope and she wants to inspire people to meet other DREAMers while encouraging people to call their legislator to pass the DREAM Act (use this link for more info).

Rocio’s Backstory and the Importance of Positive Perspective

Rocio was brought illegally to the United States at a very young age by her parents. Before DACA, Rocio struggled to find education, housing, jobs and basic needs such as a cell phone and driver’s license because she lacked citizenship. Even after working hard to find private funding and graduating from an Ivy League college, Rocio couldn’t find work.

“It was a struggle to figure out what to do before DACA. I had to live in the shadows. My parents made huge sacrifices to bring me here. I grew up here. I don’t know much about Mexico. I don’t even know the anthem. I am an American. This country is all I know.”

Both of her parents worked as janitors every night just to afford a $400 room in a house shared with 17 other immigrants. It wasn’t uncommon for her dad to get beat in the streets on his way to work.

“My dad worked at tech company startups as a janitor. I would go help him sometimes on the weekends, but he would have to put me in a trashcan with a bag over the top of it to sneak me past the security cameras. It’s funny because now I sit in these conference rooms … like the ones I used to clean.”

Rocio has pursued advancement for herself from a young age, from relentlessly pursuing her education in spite of all of the obstacles in front of her to developing her public speaking skills through Toastmasters until she was coaching PHD students at Stanford.

“I couldn’t really work legally when I graduated from Columbia so I started freelancing. Part of freelancing is that you have to really be a go-getter. You have to be able to communicate and give presentations as well as have emotional intelligence. A friend of mine recommended Toastmasters so I started volunteering and coaching people.”

She never gave up. In fact, the people she coached are the ones who peaked her interest in product design and tech. She was curious about it, and would go sit in the back of the classrooms to listen. And the more she listened, the more she found herself following her natural path.

“The essence of product design is problem solving and communicating. In the streets of East Palo Alto, I had to do a lot of problem solving. Which street do I walk down so I don’t get killed? I became a great problem solver.”

Rocio used her freelancing to slowly build her career by never passing up an opportunity and maintaining a positive mindset. Cisco Systems was her first corporate career. She was able to work there after DACA was implemented giving her a permit to work legally.

When you ask Rocio how she kept her head up through her life before DACA, she gives a lot of credit to the mentors who have helped her along the way.

“I had many mentors, but one sticks out. Christina was a retired teacher I met when I was a young girl. She mentored me and helped me learn to read. She helped me in many ways.” Christina introduced Rocio to Karen Walker, CMO of Cisco who allowed Rocio to stay at her house so she didn’t have to commute during her internship.

She encouraged Rocio to remain in school even when things got tough, and most importantly she helped Rocio embrace the fact that if she worked hard, she could have all of the opportunity she wanted in this country.

Despite everything she has been through, her biggest aspiration is to pay it forward and help others. “I want to do what Chris did for me.” But Rocio may never get that opportunity.

Trump’s Announcement Affects Nearly 1 Million People

Rocio along with approximately 800,000 individuals face potential deportation as President Trump has recently rescinded the DACA policy.

In fact, it is estimated that one in every three DACA recipients lives in California.

These individuals have a clean criminal record, pay taxes and contribute to society, and they came to the United States through no fault of their own. “These are good people, people we need in our country.”

The DACA policy allowed Rocio to receive a social security number, a driver’s license, an apartment and a job. It changed her entire world and opened opportunity for her that was unreachable before.

“DACA showed me that this country is about opportunity. If you work hard, you can have this too.” Because of the job DACA allowed her to pursue, Rocio has worked her way up into a position where she now hires other designers.

Without DACA, Rocio will lose the job and dream she has worked so hard to achieve.

“I love this country. I am thankful for my education and that I was able to break my way into tech. I want to pay it forward. That is my dream. We need more designers. We need more engineers. I want to help others break into tech. If I’m not able to work, how will I help others make their dreams come true?”

People are Speaking Out

Since the announcement of President Trump’s DACA decision, many people are speaking out.

Senator Kamala Harris has been one of the most vocal politicians that has pledged to defend DACA and pass the DREAM Act.

Laurene Powell Jobs from the Emerson Collective and investor Ron Conway are among the tech representatives who are asking Americans to get involved and help the DREAMers.

“This is the height of ridiculousness that we are turning our backs on the lifeblood of our country and the founding notion of our country that we are a magnet for the best and the brightest and those who are seeking the liberties and freedoms that our country was built on.” Laurene Powell Jobs

If the Dream Act is not passed and DACA is rescinded, Rocio (along with thousands of others) could become a target for deportation at any time. She could be sent back to a country where although she may have been born, she knows nothing about. She knows no one there and has no idea what she would do if she got sent back. Where would she live? Where would she work?

DACA participants are not citizens, but they are tax-paying, valuable individuals who came here as young children and now contribute to our country both in the tech field and beyond.

“Most of the giant tech companies have been founded by immigrants. The tech industry’s lifeblood is through immigrants.” Ron Conway announced recently at the Disrupt convention. He goes on to explain that as of 2010, more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and their children, and the majority of small businesses were founded by immigrants.

Rocio questions the government, “It is a moral question. Does this mean that you hold the children accountable for their parents’ actions? I didn’t know I was doing anything illegal. I thought it was a field trip.”

Rocio was disappointed and devastated with Trump’s announcement. “I could become a target. They know where I am. They know where I work. At any time, they can knock on my door. I went through a rigorous background check. I gave them all of my information.”

Ironically, by rescinding the DACA policy, it will be easier to find and deport DREAMers than it will be to find the parents who brought them here. And that is because these young people have trusted in the U.S. government and believed that they (and their information) would be protected by doing the right thing and signing up.

Rocio believes that a big part of the issue behind this policy is that many people don’t understand the real truth about DREAMers. She believes that people trust everything they hear from politicians and the news, much of which isn’t based on fact.

“They think we are taking their jobs and American benefits. They don’t know the truth from falsehood. That is why I’m not afraid to be open about my status. We need to all learn the truth.”

DREAMers want to stay in America. They have built their lives here, and they love this country. They work hard every single day of their lives, and they contribute to society. 91% of DACA program participants have full time jobs. 100% have never committed a serious crime. Rocio, as other DREAMers, are willing to do anything to stay in the United States.

Take Action – Speak Up

As we mentioned before, Rocio and the entire tech industry is encouraging everyone to take action through two simple steps.

  1. Meet other DREAMers. Listen to them. Find out what is real and what is not real. Make up your mind once you understand the facts. Don’t believe everything you read or hear.

  2. Call your members of Congress and encourage the passing of the Dream Act. This is your opportunity to make democracy work. Pre-scripted prompts and phone numbers are available to you through FWD.us. It only takes a few moments, and it could affect the lives of nearly one million DREAMers. You can also contact Hustle directly to follow up on this issue.

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