Undocumented immigrants will play an instrumental role in the rebuilding of Houston and other areas that Hurricane Harvey ravaged. Already, undocumented immigrants have risked their lives to save their friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers. As the Trump Administration announced its decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – which has shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to work and attend school – two recipients’ heroic acts have come to light. Alonso Guillén and Jesus Contreras, both born in Mexico, grew up in the United States. Guillén lost his life trying to save others, and now Contreras – a Houston-based paramedic who spent six straight days rescuing people from floodwaters – faces an uncertain future with the end of DACA. Their stories reinforce what we already knew about the undocumented community: They deserve better than to be vilified because of their status. Instead, DACA recipients – and their families – are simultaneously experiencing two tragedies.
Alonso Guillén, a 31-year-old DJ from Lufkin, and friend Tomas Carreon – who became a permanent resident after getting married – drove 100 miles to help those stranded, according to BuzzFeed. However, Guillén, Carreon, and another friend, Luis Ortega – who survived – disappeared Wednesday after their boat capsized. Both Guillén’s and Carreon’s families asked them not to put themselves in danger, but for the two friends, helping those in need was important. “Both of them, they had a servant’s heart,” Carreon’s cousin, Sonia Bermudez, told BuzzFeed. “They impacted people in ways that we may never completely understand.”
Those who knew Alonso knew that he wouldn’t stand for injustices. At school, he’d fight the bullies that picked on other kids. His sister Rita Guillén said, “That was just who he was.”
Carreon and Guillén met a group of volunteers at a gas station before traveling south. Guillén had borrowed a boat, and he and Carreon and Ortega stopped in Spring – just north of Houston – which had suffered devastating flooding. They set off on Cypress Creek, intending to rescue those stranded at a flooded apartment complex. The boat struck a bridge on Interstate 45, and because the engine wasn’t powerful enough against the current, the boat ended up flipping over. A resident who heard the shouts tried to rescue the men, but only found Ortega, who clung to a tree.
As soon as their families heard what happened, they set out to look for them, knowing that local law enforcement, backlogged with other cases, couldn’t immediately get out to the creek to look for them. As more of their neighbors and friends heard of Guillén and Carreon’s disappearance, more joined in to find them.
The already painful scenario has been compounded for Guillén’s family, who is fighting to get his mother, who lives across the border in Piedras Negras, to his funeral. Rita Guillén previously had a visa, which she used to visit her family in Texas. But immigration officials revoked it in 2009 after accusing her of failing to comply with the terms. Last week, at the US border entry at Eagle Pass, she hoped Customs and Border Protection officials would allow her to enter the country with a humanitarian visa. “They told me I had the violation, so I couldn’t,” Rita said. “I yelled out, crying.” The agency turned her away, but her family is fighting to get her into the US so she can say her final goodbyes to her son.
As for Jesus Contreras – who spent an exhausting week saving people – he now has to worry about whether he can stay in the country. Already shaken up by what has transpired, Contreras felt extra worried. “Hearing that my future in the United States is being threatened and possibly taken away was disheartening,” he told BuzzFeed. “It was disappointing. It was like getting an extra kick to the face when you’re already down.”
On Tuesday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA. According to BuzzFeed, Contreras is likely heading home after another shift at the Montgomery County Hospital District. And he’s not the only DACA recipient putting in countless hours as Houston recovers. “There are countless people with DACA that are out here volunteering, coordinating with shelters, and relief,” Contreras added. “I have this opportunity to share my story but I’m far from the only one and there are millions of people just like me doing even bigger things.”