LOS ANGELES – In 2014, Honduran-born Sayda Ayala did not have even the $495 she needed to sign up for the DACA program for the children of undocumented immigrants and had to continue living in the shadows.
Today she's much better off. This year, she reported to the U.S. government an income of $4.8 million from the two transportation companies she owns in southern California.
“For me, fear does not exist,” said Ayala, a single mother who recently turned 28.
Raised in Honduras until age 13, she left for California in 2003 due to the devastation unleashed by Hurricane Mitch and the high level of violent crime, to join parents and siblings already in the United States.
Ayala traveled alone. She was detained by the Border Patrol in Texas in September 2003, but was freed three days later and joined relatives in Long Beach, California.
At the age of 20 she had to abandon her criminology studies in a community college when she became pregnant. After the birth of her first son Caleb, now seven years old, she got a job as a secretary in a company that sold cargo trucks – the start of her meteoric business career.
She vowed that she would not cheat her Hispanic clients. “I saw a lot of wrongs. Latinos are humble, and the companies take advantage. They sell them bad equipment, change the mileage. They sell them trucks with faulty engines or have parts about to fail. They don't notice many things that go on.”
Ayala and her partner, Caleb's father, bought a truck together in 2014, but that partnership broke up when they separated. She wound up with the truck as part of the separation agreement, but didn't know what to do with it. A friend who owned a transportation company and became her mentor advised her to add it to his rental fleet. Two weeks later he called her to his office and gave her the first check.
“Six months later I grabbed another truck, and three months later another. At one point I had 11 trucks,” she said about her company, Caleb's Express Transportation LLC, based in Ontario, which last year earned about $800,000 delivering merchandise for big companies like Coca-Cola and Costco.
After saving $200,000 and receiving a $500,000 loan from a friend, she started Milestone Trucks Sales in Whittier, east of Los Angeles.
It's a relatively small business but sells up to 10 cargo trucks a month – each worth $60,000 to $80,000. She now has an inventory of 30 vehicles, and this year reported earnings of $4 million, double the level of three years ago.
The two companies have 15 employees. Over the years they have employed five “Dreamers” – undocumented migrants brought as children by their parents – and helped more than 10 others to start their own trucking and repair companies.
Ayala said she had some doubts when she started her companies, but advised immigrants to shake off any fears. “I cried and told my mother, 'I want to do it. I am not taking anything away from anyone. I am not stealing anything. I am not taking away any jobs or asking the government for anything,” she said.
History of the Dreamer struggle: five years of DACA
“I was worried about not being able to help people,” Ayala added.
But none of that would have happened without her DACA status, which she received in July of 2016 when she finally had the money to apply for it.
“I am an example of a business that paid more than $50,000 in taxes, the business of a Dreamer who, if her DACA status is not renewed, will stop generating that tax income for this government,” she said.
Ayala was able to extend her DACA status in July and her new card arrived in late August. Her company had problems for a few weeks when she did not have a valid work permit and could not renew her driver's license. She feared that the company would have to shut down. “I didn't think much about myself, but I worried about not being able to help people,” she said.
Milestone Trucks Sales Inc., she explained, was committed to complete honesty with buyers and even to help them make repairs later.
“I want to be different from other dealers. I saw how people cried when their trucks broke down and no one did anything,” she said. “Eighty percent of my clients are companies that came out of nothing. They are loyal and grateful clients.”
That's the kind of motivation that keeps Ayala going, even after she was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy tissues, or back pains that have kept her away from her businesses since 2017.
“I have a seven-year-old son and I can't give up,” she said
Attorney Eric Price said Ayala is an example of what Dreamers can achieve, as well as “an inspiration for those who believe in the American Dream. She began with nothing and built something that will be a legacy to generations.”
In general, Dreamers have more to lose and more to gain, and "that's why they work harder than anyone else,” Price said.
A 'grandmother' at 28
Two years ago, Ayala became responsible for her niece, Angie Nicole Mancia, now 19, who emigrated alone just like she did 15 years ago.
At first, she agreed to be responsible for Mancia when she was detained by immigration authorities who were holding her in New Jersey. Then she won legal custody of the young woman, who had been left without family after her grandparents died in Honduras. “She had no one there,” Ayala said.
And on Aug. 28 her adoped daughter gave birth to Mateo, making her a grandmother. “I tell her that the boy will lead them to forge ahead,” she said.
Ayala's dream is to start more transportation companies and retire at age 40.
“I would tell other dreamers to not be afraid, to talk, to get out, to make themselves known, to struggle,” she said. “We're not asking anyone for anything.”