Alan Aleman. COURTESY.
Twenty-year-old Alan Aleman was the first Las Vegan to receive a work permit thorough the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program that allows undocumented young people who came to the United States as children to pursue education or military service without fear of being deported. President Obama shared Aleman’s story during a recent visit to Las Vegas, and Aleman was invited by the first lady to attend the State of the Union address Feb. 12.
How did the president come to know and tell your story? There’s a local group of Dreamers, and the White House asked them to see if they had any Dreamers who got the work permit here, so they nominated me.
When did you get your work permit? I got it in October. I applied the first day, and I got it two months later. I’m working for a nonprofit called Hermandad Mexicana that helps people with the immigration process, including deferred action.
What was it like getting a call from the White House? The first time I got the call I thought it was joking around. I never thought it was something real. Staff from the White House called. She was the one who called me when President Obama came to Las Vegas. She was like, “Oh, we have a great opportunity — again!”
What was it like being there, and being seated next to the first lady? It’s amazing. You have a speech you want to say to the first lady, but when she’s in front of you, you forget it. But she’s really, really nice.
Were you able to speak with her? Yes, both Michelle and President Obama. When I spoke to the first lady, I told her “Thank you for inviting me. My name is Alan Aleman, I’m one of the Dreamers here in Las Vegas.” She was like, “I know who you are. Thank you for coming here, just keep the hard work going.” I only spoke to [the president] for three to five seconds, and I told him, “Thank you for pushing immigration reform. The Hispanic community has faith in you.” That’s all I was able to say.
What organizations are you involved in? I’m part of the Latin Chamber of Commerce board, the American Red Cross of Southern Nevada, where I’m a board member, and the Latino Youth Leadership Alumni, where I’m an executive board member.
Have you been involved in politics, even though you can’t vote? A little bit. The first time I went to a political event, it was the re-election of Harry Reid. This year I started to attend when President Obama came to Las Vegas. People ask me, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” and I always say, “I’m neither one. I support people who support my dream.”
How did you get by before your work permit? Did you work then? The first semester, my parents paid for the tuition. Little by little it became difficult for them, so I had no choice but to get a job that paid under the table. That was to cover bills and help with household expenses.
What was your experience working under the table? It’s a little difficult. Sometimes your employers aren’t fair, or they’re paying you less than the minimum wage. And why? Because they know you need a job and you’ll stay because there’s no way you will find another job without legal status. They pay you less, they treat you differently than legal U.S. citizens.
Did that happen to you? Not really, but a little bit. I never had a fear of being fired. I think, like, yeah I can be fired, but they can get more in trouble. Even though we’re undocumented, we still have rights here.
How has your life changed since the State of the Union? It’s like living in a new world. The press wants to talk to me. You should’ve seen my phone Monday. It was ringing till Wednesday. I think that I have more responsibility to represent the immigrant community, as well as the Hispanic community. It’s been a little challenging. For example, conservative media, Republican media have been criticizing me for attending the State of the Union for being undocumented.
How do you deal with the criticism? To be honest, at the beginning, it was a little bit challenging. But little by little, I realized it’s a few individuals. It’s not like the whole world. I noticed these people are misinformed. They don’t have the facts and they don’t know what we face.
[Now that your parents’ status is exposed] do you think there’s a possibility they’ll be investigated? To be honest, not by the IRS or immigration. I don’t think they’re doing it. For their safety I told them not to do interviews anymore. I don’t want the public to know who they are. If they do it, [I’m afraid people are] going to start chasing them or attacking them, or things like that.