Inwood resident Laura Reyes came to the United States from Mexico when she was two and a half years old, became a “Dreamer, ” then a resident and now awaits the time to apply for citizenship, but she still feels the sting of ethnic bias.
“I feel a disconnection when you hear a certain type of person doesn’t want me here,” said the 33-year-old wife of Wilder Reyes and mother of Elizabeth, 9, and Sophia, 5. The Reyes have been married for 10 years. “We all have stories, all have lives,” Laura added. “When I say the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ I always feel great pride and I’ll be every proud to be an American citizen. It makes me sad that a lot of people think I shouldn’t be here.”
Reyes, who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamer) status in 2012, will be one of two main speakers at the National Council of Jewish Women-Peninsula Section program “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor … Immigration in Crisis” on Thursday, Nov. 14 at noon at the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre, 295 Main Street in East Rockaway. Immigration lawyer Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, N.J., will also speak. The Nov. 14 program is a members-only event. New members can join at the door. NCJW membership is $60 per year and runs from July 1 to June 30.
“NCJW is fighting back against xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-refugee policies to ensure that our country continues to be a welcoming place,” Myra Garber, president of NCJW’s Peninsula Section, said. “We need to learn about the immigrant experience in order to support our mission and learn how we can help.”
Known as DACA, the U.S. federal policy allows some people, who came to the country illegally after being brought here as children to receive a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and become eligible for a U.S. work permit. Reyes, through her husband, became a U.S. resident in 2018, and will apply for citizenship in 2021.
“When [DACA] was announced, I decided to take the jump,” she said. “A lot of people were scared, but I figured something is better than nothing. I went to this very small immigration center in Brooklyn. It was a community group of lawyers to fill out the paper work.”
Reyes graduated from Lawrence High School and is motivated by her mother, Peodora Jimenez, and Wilder, who works at Toddy’s Appetizers in Cedarhurst. Reyes became a teacher assistant at the Five Towns Early Learning Center, also in Inwood, in 2014. She enrolled Elizabeth in 2011 and later Sophia.
“We like to hire within our community,” said Pepper Robinson, the learning center’s executive director. “We like to have a teacher in each class who is also a parent because they bring a parent perspective into their work with young children. Laura fit many of our requirements.”
Robinson noted Reyes’ ambition to succeed. “It was obvious that Laura had dreams and plans and that she was intelligent and hardworking,” Robinson said. “During her time at the center she also became my translator at parent meetings and at our graduation event.”
Reyes earned a child development certificate through the Child Care Council of Nassau and in 2016. It is a nationally recognized credential that enhances the professional development of people working in early childhood. Two years later, she was valedictorian of her licensed practical nursing class, and is now pursuing an associate nursing degree at the Helene Fuld College of Nursing.
“My mother always pushed me as she was always overcoming obstacles,” Reyes said, also giving credit to Wilder for “always being in her corner.” “I feel that I need to do something as my parents made the sacrifice to come here.”