Reyna Montoya’s parents brought her from Tijuana, Mexico, to the United States to flee violence when she was 13.
She first told people in 2010 that she was in the country illegally and, after being protected from deportation by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, began dedicating her life to helping others like herself.
This week, the nation noticed. Forbes magazine named Montoya, 26, on its 30 Under 30 list.
The annual list features 600 rising stars younger than 30 years old in 20 industries such as education, finance and music.
Montoya, who founded an organization called Aliento in 2016 that works with and advocates for migrant children, said the win is bigger than her alone.
Two months ago, shortly after someone nominated her for the list and she completed an application, the Trump administration announced it would end DACA. Trump said he would defer to Congress to decide whether to act in order to keep the protections in place. Congress has yet to act.
“It’s really a moment for not only me, but for the whole nation to see the real implications of having termination of DACA and new opportunities for people like me,” she told The Arizona Republic.
DACA a life-changer
DACA offers temporary deportation protection and work permits to immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children; participants are often called “dreamers.”
Through DACA, Montoya earned a political science degree from Arizona State University and a master’s in education from Grand Canyon University. She is a 2016 Soros Justice Fellow and 2017 Echoing Green Fellow.
Now, through Aliento, she works with children and teens who have been affected by deportation, teaching them to express themselves through art and to engage with political leaders.
“I hope this serves as an inspiration for other people to know that even if the past might be really hard, there are possibilities,” Montoya said.
“No matter what society and our current president says about us, at the end of the day, we are in charge, we have agency, we are resilient people who continue not only to fight but to innovate.”
Montoya was honored in the “social entrepreneurs” category of people who are “leveraging business smarts to save the world.”
She’s in good company: Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai won in that category in 2016.
Among all of this, Montoya is worried about her future: Her DACA status expires next October.
“We are living in a very critical moment where people like me who are DACA recipients can be deported. Right now Congress has a choice whether to provide opportunity and a solution forward or deport people like me to countries where I don’t feel confident I would be able to thrive.”
Next week, she is traveling to Washington, D.C., to talk with members of Congress about passing a permanent solution for DACA recipients before the end of the year.
“This is my community and the country I love,” she said. “I hope people will join me.”
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