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For some undocumented immigrants who come to this country as kids, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is a dream too hard to hold onto. As the debate over DACA drags on, some are moving back to Mexico voluntarily. From Mexico City, reporter Emily Green brings us this story.
EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: Noe Martinez crossed the border illegally into the U.S. to join his older brothers and sister in Los Angeles shortly before his 16th birthday. He went to high school there and eventually ended up in Tulsa, Okla. In 2012, Noe was approved for DACA. He started community college and began a landscaping business.
NOE MARTINEZ: DACA totally changed my life. DACA made me go faster towards things that I wanted.
GREEN: But while DACA protects DREAMers like Noe from being deported, if they return to their home country voluntarily, they're banned from re-entering the U.S. for up to 10 years according to immigration lawyers. Noe's parents were back in Mexico. He missed them.
MARTINEZ: Over the time, I realized I needed something now. That it wasn't DACA or it wasn't money. I needed my family, in other words.
GREEN: Still, he hoped that DACA would eventually lead to citizenship, which would allow him to visit Mexico. He bought a house in Oklahoma and grew his company.
MARTINEZ: You know, I was like, well, I've been waiting and waiting and waiting and nothing happens. Now, we have a different president that is so against immigrants, and I don't think something is going to happen.
GREEN: In September, he sold his business and his house and drove across the border into Mexico. He's 29 with a buzz cut, thick-rimmed glasses and a nose ring.
MARTINEZ: I didn't know what I was going to get myself into, not speaking Spanish the right way, not knowing many people. It was hard.
GREEN: There aren't good statistics on how many DREAMers have voluntarily left the U.S. Israel Concha runs an organization that helps Mexican citizens who grew up in the U.S. He says it's rare for young people with DACA to return voluntarily, but in the last year, he's seen more DREAMers make that leap.
ISRAEL CONCHA: We're tired of politicians playing a chess game with our lives, and we're noticing that many people, especially DREAMers, they don't see the American dream in America anymore.
GREEN: And Concha says these DREAMers have a unique skill set when they return to Mexico because they speak Spanish and English fluently. For Noe, just seeing his parents was a big relief, but it's been a hard transition. He moved in with his family in a small town outside Mexico City. He's not working. He often remembers the life he built in the U.S.
MARTINEZ: It hurts. It's just those memories. When I finally started college, you know, it was a great feeling. It's not easy to move from one country and get the experiences, the mentality of other country, come back and face reality.
GREEN: A few weeks later, I meet up with Noe again. During that time, he had moved to Mexico City and made friends with a lot of Mexicans who grew up in the U.S.
I met you a month ago now. Are you feeling more comfortable and at home?
MARTINEZ: Yeah, absolutely. I feel more confident. At one point, I thought I made a mistake by coming back to Mexico, but I think I made the right decision, and I'm happy now.
GREEN: Noe has big plans. He trained as a sushi chef in the U.S. for eight years and wants to open a restaurant in Mexico City. In the meantime, he is creating a new life for himself day by day. For NPR News, I'm Emily Green in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.