After 15 Years of Waiting, DACA Recipient Casts Her First Ballot

It took Karen Villagomez 15 years to cast her first ballot.

For the Chicago lawyer, this Election Day was a special one.

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“It was really exciting and I’m really grateful that I have the opportunity to use my voice this time around,” Villagomez said.

With a smile on her face and her husband by her side, Villagomez is filled with emotions.

“I’ve seen the behind the scenes of the tears and the anxiety behind this process and getting to this stage of her life. I’m very happy for her and our future baby girl is in the presence here,” said Luis Polanco Rodríguez, Villagomez’s husband.

Her family moved from Mexico when she was 2 years old and Villagomez grew up on the Southwest Side of Chicago. She graduated from high school and went off to college. It was then that she faced a tough reality.

“I was very determined. I went to college at Rochester, New York. I had a scholarship and then my freshman year I was detained,” Villagomez said. “I was in removal proceedings and I just felt betrayed from the country where I lived and contributed to.”

She says the experience changed the course of her life. With the guidance of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), her deportation case was dismissed. Shortly after, DACA was introduced.

“I always felt this was home to me, but then being undocumented you have a lot of barriers and fear that comes living in that situation,” she said.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a federal program that protects more than 600,000 people from being deported, known as dreamers who are brought to the U.S as children.

“I wish I was becoming a U.S citizen, not necessarily through marriage, but because there was some change in the law that other DACA recipients can benefit from,” she said.

Villagomez is now an immigration attorney dedicating her career to others with similar stories.

“Whatever I can do to be involved for there to be immigration reform. For there to be a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients in particular,” she said.

Villagomez said voting is important to her, as it’s one of the privileges citizens have.

“This is one of the ways that they can use their voice,” she said. “That’s why it was really important for me to do that because I can exercise my right to vote.”

Reciting an oath that many of us have the privilege of being born into. A special moment, Villagomez says, that will open more doors for her family.

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