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Alicia Torres Don knows how to fight. In the ring she is known as La Aguila Dorada, or the Golden Eagle, a luchadora character she developed around her fight for justice. However, outside the ring, she is best known for another fight: for the rights of undocumented youth living in fear and uncertainty inside the U.S.
The story of Alicia Torres Don is one of struggle. It is about her fight to be equal in a society that treats her as something less. She came to the United States at the age of six, clutched in the arms of her parents who left Mexico for a better life. Despite not knowing English, Alicia quickly acclimated to a new culture in Austin, Texas, earned high marks throughout school, and went to college to study nursing. “I was privileged,” she says, pointing out that most states do not offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. She had yet to experience such limitations.
Her final semester in college, however, Alicia was forced to confront her status when a Social Security number requirement prevented her from completing required clinical exams. “It was one of the worst days of my life, she said. “I felt like I had failed.”
Refusing to accept this reality, Alicia searched and found a community college where she could complete her degree. But despite having earned her high school diploma and college degree in the United States, she could not work as a nurse. She did not have a Social Security number.
Alicia remained in Austin with her family, earning money translating and babysitting. But everything changed when her mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. Alicia panicked. Doctors in Austin were unable to treat her mother because of her status, forcing Alicia to confront her undocumented identity again.
Alicia searched across the country for a hospital or clinic that would treat her mother. A U.S. citizen with health insurance in this situation would receive treatment in an outpatient dialysis clinic, paying a standard deductible and co-pay. But for undocumented immigrants, who typically work in low-wage jobs with no benefits, there is not system for treatment. Alicia and her family report their earnings and pay taxes, though they are ineligible for most benefits, including Social Security. Emergency Medicare funds helps pay for a significant portion of the dialysis treatment, however these funds are generally not accepted in outpatient clinics, resulting in thousands of dollars in additional costs every week.
When Alicia found a hospital in North Carolina with funding available to cover the ER costs, she dropped everything. She and her brother immediately moved their mother to North Carolina, leaving behind the family and the home they had known since they were children.
Alicia’s mother continues to receive treatment in North Carolina, though her health slowly deteriorates. Being apart from her family, Alicia says, is the most difficult part of her life right now. “My mom shouldn’t have to live through this situation,” she said.