Joaquin Villalobos was entering his final year at Uniondale High School in 2010 when he realized he didn’t have a social security number.
He had come to Long Island at age 12 with his mother, as she fled extortionists in El Salvador who had threatened to kidnap her young son. As Joaquin soon found out, he was brought to America without papers. He was undocumented.
He couldn’t legally work. He couldn’t get state financial aid for school. He couldn’t even drive.
Joaquin found solidarity among other undocumented young people when, in that same year, he decided to join a Washington, DC, march in support of the DREAM Act, a federal bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship to students like him. “We went there and I met so many great people, so many kids who are in my same situation and they inspired me,” he says. He wanted to work toward a change.
For Joaquin, who is gay, the news that he was undocumented came at the end of a high school experience where he also faced discrimination and harassment because of his sexuality.
“When I was in tenth grade, [other students] used to say that I was a fairy, that I was a fag, that I was gay, that I was that girly boy,” he said. “It bothered me, but later I didn’t care that much because this is who I am.”
Now a 20-year-old student at Nassau Community College, Joaquin has become an active supporter of immigrant rights, particularly the New York DREAM Act (unlike the federal bill, this would only offer state tuition assistance to undocumented students, not a pathway to citizenship). He’s helped organize several rallies and addressed the school’s board of trustees, and he’ll be speaking at an April 4 event co-organized by Long Island Wins at SUNY Old Westbury.
Watch the video below to hear Joaquin talk about the parallels and differences between coming out as gay and as undocumented.