Jackie Hernandez, 22, of Orange, said as a small child she was afraid to go to public places because she thought Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would take her from her family and deport her. She doesn’t want anyone to ever have to go through that fear.

“That’s why I became an activist. It’s my passion,” Hernandez said. “I’m not paid to do it. We’re here to help each other. We (Americans) do benefit from undocumented workers.

“It’s inhumane to take their money and for them to be taken advantage of. We need to do what’s right and not treat people as animals.”Hernandez belongs to several organizations at the local, state and national level, dealing with immigration issues. She travels much of the time, and as a result, she organizes, gives input and takes part in actions such as marches. Locally, she participates in the Education Initiative Alliance, a student organization at Lamar University- Beaumont.

“We teach them (undocumented immigrants) the basics- their rights so they won’t be taken advantage of and how they can defend themselves. If you don’t know your rights, you don’t have any rights,” she said.

Another local organization she participates in is called Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals, or DACA for those who entered the United States under the age of 15. Hernandez said enrollees must complete many documents. The documents and services are free of charge through the organization but governmental fees still must be paid. Attorneys for DACA are available and volunteers are trained by them so they can “do things right.” There are also DACA Renewal Clinics so participants can renew every two years after their documents have expired.

“In 2010, we had Students for the DREAM Act which taught us we have a voice,” Hernandez said. “We don’t have to be considered as second-class citizens in the country we love.”

The DREAM Act is legislation drafted by both Republicans and Democrats that would give students who grew up in the United States a chance to contribute to the country’s well-being by serving in the U.S. armed forces or pursuing a higher education, according to the www.whitehouse.gov website. At the statewide level, Hernandez belongs to the Texas Dream Alliance which focuses on legislative issues to ensure the Hispanic community, by law, is not taken advantage of since many undocumented immigrants cannot vote. Several organizations in Texas network together through a support system.

“Texas as a whole has unique politics,” she said. “I worked an internship in Austin last year. It was very exciting to have a bill for veterans I was working on made into a law. It had unanimous support. I learned so much. It was a crash course.”

It was during that time, she and other immigration activists feared the Texas DREAM Act would be repealed, but wasn’t. Hernandez also visited Congress in Washington, D.C. last year to concentrate on legislation and other actions. The national organization, United We Dream, held a national action of saying the Pledge of Allegiance. The flip side was it was undocumented immigrants saying the pledge. They were escorted out by police. The undocumented immigrants then marched around some office buildings. She said some onlookers were supportive, but others made mean and nasty comments.

United We Dream is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, youth-led organization representing over 40 organizations with a membership of 500.

Some of the other work the organization does is a program called Education, not Deportation, that calls and writes officeholders to get undocumented immigrants out of custody. Nationally, undocumented immigrants in Arizona, for instance, are stopped by police because they have brown skin and look Hispanic, she said.

“Everyone is a criminal who fits the stereotype,” Hernandez said. “There are so many myths.”

For instance, undocumented immigrants cannot apply or receive any federal aid but they pay federal, state, and local taxes. Hernandez said Hispanics contributed $11 billion in Texas in 2010 through state and local taxes. Another myth is workers send all of their money to their families in Mexico when their families live in the United States.

Still another is Hispanics are the fastest growing undocumented immigrant group when it’s actually Asians who overstay their visas. She further believes both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for undocumented immigrants’ plight.

“One says they’re the family values party. Is it family values in separating families or how harshly it affects families?” she asked.

“We’ve been pressuring (President Barack) Obama. We call him deporter and chief. He has quadrupled deportations; two million have been deported. That’s more than the last two or three presidents combined. It’s record numbers. He can do better.”

She believes the only legislation Obama has done is The DREAM Act. Conversely, President George W. Bush attempted a path for citizenship in 2007, but failed.

“We’re not looking for amnesty. We want a process where over time they earn it and where it’s not given,” she said. “We’re tired of both (political parties). The Democrats say they will do this, and then they don’t do it.”

Hernandez added many deportees are low-risk immigrants with no records. Those waiting to be deported also face horrors in detention centers, such as pregnant women not receiving care, LBGT immigrants sent to solitary confinement because they have no families, and suicides of undocumented immigrants not being prevented, she said.

“They’re (undocumented immigrants) are good human beings who want nothing more than to take care of their families,” Hernandez said.

For those who falsify government documents such as driver’s licenses or Social Security cards, Hernandez and other activists think falsified information should not be condoned or incentivized. As pertaining to punishment, however, she thinks living in the shadows for years in fear of deportation is punishment enough. She also thinks there should be some kind of fine paid by undocumented immigrants for entering illegally, but not so expensive it’s impossible to pay.

“I know they would pay it. They want to be part of this nation,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez, a native Houstonian, has also lived in Beaumont and in Vidor for many years before moving to Orange. She’s a senior at Lamar University-Beaumont, majoring in psychology and minoring in Spanish. She hopes to take the Law School Admittance Test after she graduates in May and attend either the University of Texas at Austin Law School or the University of Houston Law School.

“I would like to go to U.T., but U.H. has good immigration clinics I can specialize in. U.T. does them too, however,” she said.

Hernandez currently works at the Allison Law Firm in Beaumont. She said immigration law is the second most difficult type of law to practice after tax law because cases are so dependent upon situations. Also, some cases may take 20 years to close because of backlog. She would like to be an immigration lawyer and set up her practice somewhere in Southeast Texas.

Jackie Hernandez, 22, of Orange, will graduate from Lamar University in May and she hopes to enter law school to study immigration law. She plans to return home to Southeast Texas to set up a practice. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball