South Bay valedictorian finds out she's not a US citizen

DACA is a temporary solution for her, not family

SAN DIEGO - A South Bay teen thought she had a bright future. She is a valedictorian, has been accepted to top colleges and dreams of a career in international relations. But then she discovered her parents were keeping a secret -- one that could unravel her dreams.

She's in this country illegally, and the question now is what happens next?

As a young child, Lucero loved flowers and princesses like other little girls. But in some ways, she was very different.

"I remember asking for extra homework in first grade," Lucero said.

Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

"That's why we came here -- to be more, to do more," she said.

Motivated from the start, Lucero excelled. She became captain of the academic decathlon, president of the debate club and valedictorian. She tutors younger students and volunteers hundreds of hours.

So when she started applying to colleges she thought she was ready.

"They started asking me for a Social Security number and information that my parents had taken care of before," Lucero said. "I asked my parents, 'Am I a resident, am I a citizen, what am I?' That's when I found out I wasn't American."

Lucero didn't know her parents had brought her here as a baby.

She said her immediate reaction to finding out the truth: "Oh, well, the first thing was fear."

Not just fear of being deported -- fear that all she'd worked for would hinge on where she was born.

"This is a place where I think I want to give back because it's given me so much," Lucero said.

She decided to step out of the shadows to apply for DACA, President Barak Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It's designed for young people like Lucero to get a job or go to school. It's not legal status, just deferment for two years.

"After that, we're not sure because Obama didn't say anything about that," Lucero said.

But DACA is not without risk. Congressman Juan Vargas, who is trying to help Lucero, said in other DACA cases, family members have been rounded up after someone applies.

A risk, Lucero said, her parents are willing to take.

"They are scared of course, but they're proud," said Lucero.

On top of everything else, Lucero's family became homeless a year ago. Through it all, she was accepted to six colleges, including Dartmouth and the University of San Diego, with scholarships.

She said she'll overcome her illegal status because she's a fighter and said this country and her parents helped make her who she is.

"I appreciate and I thank them so much for bringing me here and for the sacrifice that it took ... I know that," said Lucero.

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