SHELDON, Iowa | Brandon Ramirez Padilla sat on his mother's outstretched legs 15 years ago, cramped in a truck with dozens of Mexicans as they crossed the border into the U.S., risking their lives in a harrowing 10-hour ride.
"The truck stopped and we were told to get out and run," says Ramirez Padilla, today 19.
He joined his mother and sister, sprinting to refuge in a gas station/convenience store. The trio tried to "blend in" while making believe they were shopping, desperately waiting for a relative from Texas to pull up and cart them away.
Brandon Ramirez Padilla looked back and ahead on Thursday, tracing developments over the past 15 years, a time frame whose calculus includes two baby brothers, four communities, one high school degree and one foggy future, the result of President Trump's announcement last week to phase out DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program President Obama instituted by executive order in 2012.
The Obama administration order offered protection to children like Ramirez Padilla, who came to the U.S. illegally with his parents. DACA allowed such young people the chance to qualify for a two-year renewable period of deferred action from deportation, while also promising eligibility for a work permit. It is estimated that 800,000 young people, called "Dreamers," a name that comes from the Dream Act, are enrolled in the program, a program that does not provide a clear path to citizenship.
Brandon Ramirez Padilla is a "Dreamer." The May 2017 graduate of Sheldon High School served as president of the school's Spanish Club, president of Family Career Community Leaders of America, art director for the fall musicals, a member of National Honor Society and co-editor of the school yearbook. He kept busy while earning a grade-point average of 3.2. An employee of Shopko on Sheldon, he's now a freshman at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon.
Three years ago his parents bought a brick home in Sheldon, their first purchased residence. Possessors of work permits both, Pedro Ramirez and Yeimy Padilla pay property taxes, sales taxes, fuel taxes and income taxes.
They've not returned to Mexico since crossing the border. Doing so, they fear, could result in being unable to come back to Sheldon, where they've built their lives and their future.
"I like our life in the U.S.," says Brandon, a budding artist fluent in Spanish and English. "Sometimes it can be hard due to some racism or ignorance. Luckily, we've had it really good."
His family, he says, worked with an attorney to earn a Cancellation of Removal status that enables its members to remain in the U.S. even if they are pulled over by law enforcement and are unable to show documentation.
"We'd have a right to a trial before we could be removed," he says.
Pedro works as a supervisor in an area meat-packing plant. Yeimy remains at home with their youngest son, 3-year-old Alan Ramirez Padilla, who suffers from Type 1 Diabetes.
"I was encouraged to get into 'Dreamers' to pave the way for my university study," Brandon continues, saying the educational benefit outweighed the risk. "If you are a 'Dreamer' they (the government) know that you and your family are immigrants. We exposed ourselves and our families which makes it easier to pin the whole family down."
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said DACA would be terminated come March unless Congress salvages it.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, Iowa whose district includes Sheldon, supports the program's termination, telling CNN and Fox News that "Dreamers" should live in the shadows.
"They came here to live in the shadows and we're not denying them that opportunity to live in the shadows," King told NBC News. "If they're encountered by law enforcement officials, the law requires that they'd be placed in removal proceedings. That's the law and if you're going to waive the application of law, to groups of people, it is amnesty and amnesty in America, with regard to immigration, is a reward for immigration lawbreakers and is a pardon for immigration lawbreakers coupled with their reward of the objective of their crime."
Fifteen states, including Iowa, are suing the Trump administration to keep it from terminating DACA and, thus, ending protection it affords young people like Brandon Ramirez Padilla.
"My dad speaks perfect English," Brandon continues. "My siblings speak English and my mom continues to learn English. People say 'Why don't you just go back to Mexico?'
"That amounts to throwing all of this away," he adds. "We live here as citizens, paying our taxes and our bills. We make sure everything is paid off and we behave. We do not qualify for (government) assistance, which is fine. My sister, who is 16, and I have jobs and we manage."
While he'd like to be a model citizen, he's not sure that dream is attainable.
"There's a fifty-fifty chance of that, which can be stressful," he says.
The family's most stressful period to date came a few years ago when a judge sought letters in support of Yeimy Padilla, who was threatened with deportation. Brandon and his sister, Paola Ramirez Padilla, 16, wrote to describe their mother's work ethic. Various Sheldon teachers and other relatives joined the effort, lending their support as character references.
"The judge was moved by those letters," Brandon says. "She let our mother stay."
"My life is here," Yeimy Padilla says.
On Wednesday, her oldest son will take his place at a breakfast and forum with legislators at Northwest Iowa Community College. The topic: Constitutional issues.
"I look at my parents as they work so hard," Brandon concludes. "I want to follow their example while setting examples for others. We behave not with citizenship in mind, but because we're trying to do what is right."