Family of undocumented immigrants become entrepreneurs in Gaithersburg -- Gazette.Net


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Deferred action

Deferred action is a status awarded by the Department of Homeland Security to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. younger than age 16. Individuals who apply and receive approval do not become lawful citizens. However, they will not be prosecuted for illegally living in the U.S. or deported for a two-year period from the date they are awarded the deferred action status. Those who apply undergo a background check before they receive deferred action status.

The deferred action program began in August 2012. Data from the Department of Homeland Security state about 3,800 requests were received per day from August to mid-January. Almost 400,000 applications were received during that same time. About 3 percent of those were rejected.

Deferred action applicants do not incriminate their parents by applying for the status. Information submitted by applicants is not referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the purpose of enforcement against relatives, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Dream Act, passed in Maryland in November, allows the children of undocumented immigrants to apply for in-state tuition at state universities. The student’s family must have filed income tax returns in Maryland for at least three years.

Dressed in crisp blue windbreakers and worn-down sneakers, 26-year-old Jaime Torreblanca and his younger brother Juan set to work on a customer’s silver Audi sedan.

Their jackets and the two utility vans sitting in the Audi owner’s Rockville driveway read “Epic Carwash and Detail,” the name of the mobile business the brothers started two years ago.

The brothers and their two employees popped open the car’s four doors and trunk, vacuuming carpets and spraying a formula over the exterior for a waterless wash — a technique the brothers learned from experts in California.

“We could do this in a living room,” Jaime said, opening the back doors of the van. “We don’t have to worry about getting anything wet.”

Juan, 24, and Jaime were recognized by Under30CEO, a business news website, as two of the most promising entrepreneurs in the Washington, D.C., area. The company brings their cleaning and detailing service to customers’ homes and businesses in Montgomery County.

To get recognition from Under30CEO, local entrepreneurs had to make between $50,000 and $10 million or have that much in funding. The Torreblancas’ business made $80,000 in revenue in 2011, and over $250,000 in 2012.

According to Jaime, the growing business is just part of how his family is achieving the American dream.

The Torreblanca family — Jaime, Juan, their sister Alexandra, their father Jaime L. and mother Marcela Benavides Torreblanca — are undocumented immigrants. They came to the U.S. in 2001 to escape a job drought in Arequipo, Peru, their hometown. A few of their close friends also left Peru, but moved to Spain or other countries where they could easily become citizens.

Leaving Peru

The Torreblancas came to the United States as tourists, Jaime said, but they intended to move here permanently. His father’s brother, who owned a two-bedroom apartment in New York City with his family, welcomed them.

The Torreblancas left their closest relatives, pets and a comfortable four-bedroom home in the Arequipo suburbs to fly to New York City with two packages full of all the clothing they could carry.

Alexandra, who was 7 at the time, thought the family was taking a long vacation. Moving to Queens was a “huge” change of pace, she said.

“We went from a huge amount of space to no space whatsoever. Chaos,” Jaime said.

It was “tiny, like a fishbowl,” their mother, Marcela, said.

They were cramped in the small apartment for several months, long enough for Marcela to consider moving the family back to Peru. Her children had attended good schools in Peru, and she only wanted the best for them. In New York City, Jaime’s school had metal detectors at the entrance.

“We were expecting things to be better,” Alexandra said, “but they were not better at all.”

Blending in

Later that year, a family friend helped them find an apartment in Maryland. The name “Maryland” invoked the name of the Virgin Mary, and gave their new home special meaning.

The family friend signed the lease with his name, and another brought them mattresses and made sure they had a place to sleep.

“They trusted us,” Marcela said.

Another friend, Teresa Wright, helped the Torreblancas hire a lawyer when they applied for deferred action. Wright, an employee of Montgomery County Public Schools, was recognized by the school system in 2004 for helping the children of immigrant families get the most of their education.

As a parent resource teacher for MCPS’ English for Speakers of Other Languages department, Wright holds evening workshops for parents. Marcela would often attend.

“The Torreblanca family is my pride and joy,” Wright said. “They know that education is the thing to be successful.”

Wright said the Torreblanca siblings applied for college scholarships and various volunteer opportunities in the area.

Wright works mainly with Gaithersburg High School students and in the Watkins Mill cluster, but she said working with the City of Gaithersburg “is a dream” because of the resources they provide for finding jobs and homes.

The Torreblanca family heaped praise on Wright and her work.

“She’s our angel,” Marcela said.

Alexandra said there were always people who could help their family, whether it meant visiting a soup kitchen or giving the three siblings presents for Christmas.

When they first came to the United States, they were “hesitant” to reach out and ask for help, Jaime said, but they soon developed a network of friends who cared for them.

Deferred action

In turn, they’ve helped families who have worked with Wright. Marcela said they have helped advise families from Bolivia, Columbia and Peru on legal matters and how their children could apply for deferred action, a status awarded by the Department of Homeland Security to undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children. Individuals who receive approval do not become lawful citizens, but will not be prosecuted or deported for a two-year period.

Jaime, Juan and Alexandra all applied for deferred action and received approval over the last few months. Jaime was notified of his approval in January.

Before deferred action and the Dream Act were in the news, Wright said, the families she helped were reluctant to identify themselves as immigrants. Students were more open about their citizenship status after deferred action became an option for them, she said.

“We always worked with undocumented kids,” she said. “Now we call them the Dreamers.”

The Torreblanca siblings were willing to share their story with The Gazette once they were approved for deferred action. Jaime said he hopes their experience will inspire other immigrant families to create better lives for themselves in the United States.

“We love America. We’re very happy to be here,” he said. “But we didn’t know we were going to be working our butts off, day and night, you know, to be able to reach that American dream. It’s not like it’s going to come free just because you’re in America.”

According to Jaime, he and his brother paid slightly under $10,000 in income tax in 2012.

His father, Jaime L., owns his own business and works as a painter and handyman. He painted the walls of their Gaithersburg townhouse and built their floor-to ceiling entertainment center.

“My husband works Monday to Monday,” Marcela said.

Marcela works as a maid in Potomac and Bethesda, but she wants to start a business with Alexandra. Called “MarcAle,” a combination of their first names, the mother-daughter team plan to host parties for young girls, where the guests can decorate their own purses and backpacks.

Marcela said her children helped her buy the sewing machines she uses to make the bags. For now, Marcela is stocking up on bags she makes in their Gaithersburg home.

Alexandra, a student in her first year at Montgomery College, is considering her options for higher education. Though she hasn’t sent out any applications yet, Alexandra said she would like to apply to the University of Maryland to study engineering.

Jaime, Juan and Alexandra said their parents made huge sacrifices for their family to live in the United States. Jaime started Epic Carwash and Detail to help his parents live comfortably, and eventually help them buy their own home.

Marcela said her family has been lucky to have good health and dependable friends.

“Always, God blesses us,” she said.

scarignan@gazette.net