Carlos Martinez has spent the last eight years working in construction despite having two engineering degrees from the University of Arizona. He hasn’t been able to use his degrees because he is undocumented.
But all that is about to change for this 31-year-old.
Next week, Martinez — who was one of the first 29 Dreamers in the United States who received a work permit and authorization to be in the country under the Obama administration’s deferred action program — will begin working for IBM as a technical sales specialist in San Francisco. His first day on the job is June 19, four days after the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s announcement of the deferred action program.
“Deferred action changed my life,” Martinez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 9 years old, told VOXXI. “It brought me back to my high school days and college days when I had goals in my mind and I had inspiration and I wanted to be a role model and contribute to the community.”
“All those goals and aspirations that I had were pretty much on pause and on the side, because I couldn’t do anything,” he continued. “Now, deferred action has given me that opportunity to finally work where I wanted to work and finally take advantage of all the hard work I went through in school.”
Martinez is one of the more than 12,000 Dreamers from Arizona and more than 291,000 Dreamers nationwide who have been approved for the deferred action program, which is officially known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Obama announced the program on June 15, 2012 and the federal government began accepting applications on Aug. 15, 2012.
Dreamer struggles to pursue career in engineering
For Martinez, the wait for a program — like deferred action — that would allow him to pursue his career lasted almost a decade.
He set off to become an engineer after he graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average in 1999 and began attending the University of Arizona. Four years later, with the help of private scholarships, he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.
But upon college graduation, Martinez found himself working in construction with his father, because his undocumented status prevented him from getting an engineering job.
“I had job offers at Intel, IBM and all these engineering and top tech companies, but they couldn’t give me a job if I didn’t show them a work permit or a social security number,” he told VOXXI.
Martinez was left working in construction for a few months until he decided to go back to school. He hoped that getting a master’s degree would make him eligible for a work visa. But that didn’t happen. Instead, he again found himself working in construction even after he earned a master’s degree in software systems engineering from the University of Arizona in 2005.
“After graduating and finally meeting another goal, I thought, ‘Problem solved, this is going to work out for me,’” he said. “But nope, I went back to the same thing.”
He said there were many times when he felt like “quitting on the American dream” and going back to Mexico. What kept him going was his parent’s support and the hope that one day, he would be able to pursue a career in engineering.
“I knew something was going to happen,” he said. “I just needed to stay hopeful.”
Deferred action leads to ‘dream job’
After years of waiting for something to happen, Martinez felt like he would finally be able to pursue a career in engineering when he heard Obama announce the deferred action program last June.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said of Obama’s announcement.
Eager to get a work permit so he could begin pursuing his career, Martinez began preparing to apply for deferred action even before the forms and guidelines to apply became available. He gathered about 180 documents to prove he has been living in the U.S. for more than 20 years. By the time the federal government began accepting applications for deferred action, Martinez was ready to apply.
“I wanted to be one of the first ones to apply because it had been something that I had been waiting for since 2003, when I got my bachelor’s degree,” he told VOXXI. “It was already 2012, so we’re talking about nine years that I had been waiting.”
The wait to finally begin pursuing his career ended in September when he received a letter in the mail notifying him that he had been approved for deferred action. A few weeks later, he received his work permit and immediately went to apply for a social security number. With a work permit and a social security number in hand, he began applying for jobs.
In November, Martinez applied for the job at IBM, which he described as his “dream job.” He went through four interviews — during which he spoke about the struggles he faced as a Dreamer living in Tucson, Ariz. — before IBM hired him.
“I was scared to tell them at first,” he said of revealing he is a Dreamer. “I didn’t want them to deny me because of that, but they really liked my story.
“They liked that I am still here and that I never gave up.”
Originally published on VOXXI as One year after deferred action announcement, Dreamer lands ‘dream job’