From DREAMer To American Dream: the Journey of Monica Lazaro

Gables+alumna+Monica+Lazaro+started+the+%23HereToStay+postcard+campaign+to+fight+back+against+former+president+Donald+Trump%27s+promises+to+repeal+DACA.+She+is+pictured+in+the+bottom+row+at+one+of+her+postcard+parties.

Courtesy of Monica Lazaro

Gables alumna Monica Lazaro started the #HereToStay postcard campaign to fight back against former president Donald Trump’s promises to repeal DACA. She is pictured in the bottom row at one of her postcard parties.

Sofia Cruz, News Editor

Throughout her career, former Cavalier Monica Lazaro has made incredible strides towards equity in public health. With a PhD in health policy and her current position at a cancer institute in Boston, she works to defend the status of those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Lazaro was born and raised in Honduras until the age of nine. As the crime and violence within her community continued to rise, her parents took Lazaro and fled to the U.S. When their visas expired, her family became undocumented immigrants, and Lazaro officially became a “Dreamer.” Years later, an attorney helped her gain protection as a recipient of DACA. Due to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, Lazaro was granted residency in the United States with the right to work.

“She defines humanitarian and is always selfless, putting everyone’s needs before her own,” Activities Director Ms. Suarez said.

The obstacles of being a DREAMer did not fully realize in Lazaro’s mind until high school. The complications of her status, combined with the costs of her mother’s medical expenses, meant that her family could not afford to send her to college. Seeking aid, Lazaro confided in Gables’ teachers and disclosed her status as an undocumented immigrant. With the help of Ms. Suarez and other staff members, Lazaro was able to get an anonymous sponsor that was willing to cover the costs of her associate’s degree and graduated from Gables in 2011.

“If it wasn’t for Gables, I would probably not have been able to go to Miami Dade College. A big part of my heart is really at Gables, I was so lucky to have these teachers in my life,” Lazaro said.

After college, Lazaro first vocalized her support for DACA when Donald Trump took office and threatened the status of its recipients. A relative of Lazaro began sending letters to local representatives in Florida despite just having undergone surgery for their cancer treatment. This determination in the face of adversity inspired Lazaro to do her own advocacy.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m a student; yeah I have all this stuff to do, but this person just got out of the hospital. If she is able to do advocacy work, I should be able to do it as well because I’m healthy, and I should be advocating for her,’” Monica Lazaro said.

Her personal experience with the immigration system intensified her desire to defend other undocumented immigrants in the United States. Lazaro started by hosting parties where she and her friends would make postcards advocating for the preservation of DACA. The #HereToStay postcard campaign grew exponentially, and soon Lazaro gained national attention for her work.

“The DREAMer Act just passed in the House but if it’s not passed in the Senate nothing will have really changed… we need policy change at the federal level. If we want real change, that’s where it’s at, and it hasn’t happened yet,” Monica Lazaro said.

Lazaro moved to Massachusetts to study Health Policy at Harvard University. There, she worked at the State House with Senator Joane Comerford as a public health fellow. When health-related bills were introduced, they would be sent to her committee. She would read the bill, write a policy memo, go to the hearing and find a way to help Comerford understand the issue by providing a briefing.

The biggest project Lazaro was involved with included working on a public health impact statement. She discovered through research that no other states were publicizing the impact of their bills. Changing this would force leaders to recognize the implications of their actions, such as the establishment of nuclear energy plants or bias in facial recognition technology and address those communities that would be affected.

“The idea was to see how any bill that was introduced would affect public health in the state…It was really fun looking into this idea of how we could make our state more equitable,” Monica Lazaro said.

When the U.S. first went into lockdown as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lazaro started working with Community Care Cooperative, the largest accountable care organization with 18 federally qualified health centers in Mass. There, she met with senators and state representatives, her main role being to research their backgrounds and strategize the best way to meet and work with them.

In one situation, Lazaro aimed to push a budget request for health centers, but needed support from senators. She collected information and shared a presentation with one senator who heavily advocated for veterans, urging him to support the bill since it would ultimately benefit the veteran population by improving accessibility. Her efforts proved fruitful when the Mass. Congress passed the bill as a statewide amendment, approving the request for about $500,000.

Regardless of her accomplishments, Lazaro wishes she had been exposed to the ideas of health equity and policy at an earlier age. She encourages students to carefully study the system of government around them in order to make strides to improve it because when people are educated, they are empowered to enact change.