In dining rooms and restaurants across the country, undocumented youth protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, are sharing their stories with elected officials. It’s part of a campaign called Dreamer Dinners, launched by the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice.

Roberto Valadez is one of six students sharing their stories with State Rep. Lina Ortega over iced tea and tacos. Valadez was a baby when his family moved from Juarez to El Paso. Growing up, he was an honor roll student and self-described big time nerd.

“Then came the teenage years and I realized what being undocumented meant,” Valadez said.

No matter how hard he worked he couldn’t get a college scholarship or even a job. He got depressed, his grades dropped, and he says he barely graduated high school.

“And then in 2012 something happened that really transformed my life,” he said.

President Barack Obama passed DACA, which gave Valadez legal protections and new opportunities. He tells Ortega that he’s studying sociology at UT-El Paso.

“To me you’re Americans,” Ortega said.” I think what you’re doing is very brave. And I’m here to help you in any way that I can.”

That means giving the students feedback on their stories – which they plan to share later this month with lawmakers in Washington. Valadez says he wants a clean Dream Act that doesn’t boost border enforcement.

“Yes we want a solution for ourselves but at the same time you know you don’t help a set of people and then throw another set of people under the bus,” Valadez said.

He says his parents were the original dreamers – crossing the border to give him a better life – and they should be protected, too.

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