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Undocumented NM medical student shares her story for DACA case

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Their mother told them to keep it a secret, and after discovering the truth as teenagers, Yazmín Irazoqui Ruiz and her twin sister, Jazmín, didn’t tell anyone they were undocumented immigrants.

“I was fearful of sharing my immigration status. My mom had always instilled in us – ‘You don’t tell anyone,’ ” Irazoqui Ruiz said.

Now the secret is out of the bag.

Irazoqui Ruiz, 27, a fourth-year student in the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, is the subject of a video that will be submitted to the United States Supreme Court. The video is a first-of-its kind amicus brief in advance of the court’s oral arguments next month in a case about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

United We Dream, an immigrant youth advocacy group, created films about Irazoqui Ruiz and 26 other DACA students who were willing to put their personal stories of being undocumented immigrants in American schools into the public record.

“It wasn’t really a very difficult decision for me to make,” Irazoqui Ruiz said. “I am where I am as a result of community activism. People have had to do what I’m doing in the past so I can be in this space, which is medical school.”

Her twin sister, Jazmín, who recently graduated from UNM’s law school and is practicing public interest law in New Mexico, said she wasn’t at all surprised when she heard her sister was making the video for the court.

“Yazmín and I have been involved in immigrant rights advocacy for a long time,” Jazmín said. “And one of the things we’re able to do is uplift the reality of the other individuals by sharing our story.”

‘What do you mean I wasn’t born here?’

The Irazoqui Ruiz sisters grew up near Phoenix. They lived in Maricopa County, which used to be under the jurisdiction of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a divisive lawman who imposed policies, such as targeting drivers based on their ethnicity, that have been ruled discriminatory.

“My mom was always afraid of the police and I didn’t understand,” Irazoqui Ruiz said. “I didn’t know the implications that a simple traffic citation could lead to.”

When the girls were 16, their mother had a stroke and they attempted to get part-time jobs to help out with the bills. That’s when they learned they were born in Los Mochis Sinaloa, Mexico, and moved to America when they were 3. Prior to that, they didn’t know they were from Mexico and were undocumented immigrants.

“I have no memory of anything other than Phoenix. To me it was, ‘What do you mean I wasn’t born here?’ ” Irazoqui Ruiz said.

The family moved to Albuquerque, and both twins graduated from Del Norte High School in 2010. They achieved DACA status while in college. Irazoqui Ruiz graduated from UNM in 2015.

DACA was implemented by President Obama in 2012. It made the deportation of certain undocumented students a low priority for federal immigration enforcement. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced it was up to Congress to fix immigration laws and would terminate the DACA program, which triggered numerous lawsuits.

Several of those lawsuits were consolidated into a single case that will be heard Nov. 12. Irazoqui Ruiz’s story will be included in that court filing when it is filed with the court. It’s the first time the court has accepted videos as amicus briefs in this format, said Flaviano Graciano, a spokesman for United We Dream.

In addition to videos, a written brief filed with the Supreme Court by United We Dream describes how Irazoqui Ruiz and other young immigrants used DACA to improve not only their lives but also their communities.

“(When they are) able to make use of the basic building blocks of a productive life – a Social Security number, work authorization, or driver’s license, for example – DACA recipients have thrived,” the motion states. “Their stories of resilience, generosity,and accomplishment epitomize the American dream.”

Sharing her story

When Irazoqui Ruiz started medical school, her immigration status prevented her from taking out loans like many of her peers. And her family – by then she had two younger brothers who are American citizens – wasn’t wealthy. Irazoqui Ruiz’s mother was a physician in Mexico but has worked as a nurse’s assistant in America. But Irazoqui Ruiz said her mother stressed the need for education.

“My mom made education very important,” she said. “She instilled in us that education was going to be our way to something better.”

Irazoqui Ruiz needed a job and found work for the New Mexico Dream Team, an immigrant advocacy organization. Through that organization, Irazoqui has taken on the roles of activist and mentor.

“That’s how I got involved in the movement. I needed a way to pay for school,” she said. “This was a vision I didn’t have back then. I needed a job. I learned that I had a voice and that’s how I started advocating at the medical school. … Really it was a huge blessing in disguise.”

When Irazoqui Ruiz started at the UNM School of Medicine, she was one of only about 40 DACA students nationwide who were studying to be doctors. Today, she said, there are between 150 and 200, though exact numbers are hard to confirm because many students don’t want to publicly share their status.

Continued activism

In addition to advocating for public policy changes and mentoring young students, Irazoqui Ruiz more recently has used her medical training to help immigrants. She’s volunteered as a health care professional in southern New Mexico treating immigrant children.

“The children were traumatized because they had been separated from their parents. And when they were being bused in, nobody had told them where they were going,” she said. “People had been separated, they hadn’t received care, they hadn’t been allowed to use the bathroom – basic human rights.”

She took 2017 off from medical school so she could work full time as an immigrant activist in various ways.

She has stayed active this year despite being a fourth-year medical student applying to different residency programs.

In January, Jazmín and Yazmín were the masters of ceremony for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s inauguration. In March, Yazmín testified at a hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, D.C. And next month her video story is expected to be filed with America’s highest court.

Her mother, who once encouraged her daughters to keep their status quiet, is proud of their roles as community leaders.

“She puffs up like a peacock whenever anybody asks her how we are doing,” Irazoqui Ruiz said. “I think she’s finally realizing, ‘My girls are taken care of.’ ”

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