Touring While Undocumented: A DACA Recipient On The Road

Protect DREAMers
She Was A Dreamer: Maythe Santos works a multitude of jobs in the music industry, but she’s unable to leave the United States (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Maythe Santos – who holds numerous roles in the music industry including artist hospitality, merch coordinator and freelancing on tours – works from her home office in Chicago while on the phone with a manager. She’s trying to figure out whether or not she’ll be able to join them on an upcoming tour. The band has several dates in Canada, and she plays through the different scenarios of what might happen. Potentially, she could lose the opportunity. While she pays taxes, graduated from Columbia College Chicago and has lived in the U.S. most of her life, her status as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient prevents her from leaving the country.

Sometimes, upon learning of Santos’ status, a band will choose to go in a different direction. Extensive tour dates in Canada make it difficult not to have someone on the ground, and she understands. But sometimes, the band decides to keep her onboard, hiring local talent for the Canadian dates she can’t join them on.

“Being able to work with me on these things means so much,” she tells Pollstar.
Born in Mexico, Santos moved to the U.S. when she was 11 months old. She and her mother first went to Los Angeles, where they lived for a year. They landed in Chicago about a year later, her mother moving to be closer to her sister. Santos has known nothing else.
Immigrant researchers estimate between 690,000 and 800,000 people in the United States are recipients of DACA, according to the Presidents’ Alliance.

“As an undocumented woman in this industry I haven’t met anybody, honestly, ever speaking up that they don’t have status in this country,” Santos says. “It’s one of those things I’ve been trying to speak up about more because it’s such a big topic. Of course in politics, but no one really thinks about it in the music industry.”

Santos knows she’s far from the only one navigating what working in touring might look like for someone who can’t leave the country. She believes many of those working in the live business have come across at least one other person living with undocumented status. However, she has yet to meet another person as outspoken as she is on the subject.

“It makes it uncomfortable for some folks,” she explains. “I’ve definitely been outspoken about it and they watch what they say.”

She used to avoid those conversations herself. She would keep her status a secret from coworkers, but it did not help. Instead, when she had to deal with the realities of her life, it only made things harder.

While Santos sat down with Pollstar, she was in the process of renewing her DACA. It was set to expire within the next few days, and she was working to get all her paperwork in order to continue with her multiple gigs.

This time, the process was more difficult.

The United States is moving toward the RealID, and so an extra step in her own documentation has taken place. Now, along with renewing DACA every two years, Santos has to renew her driver’s license.

“I have three days to renew my license and I leave for tour,” she says.

For the majority of people, there are many small things they don’t need to give a second thought about. For Santos, those same things become extra hurdles she has to navigate.
“I’ve got to go through extra steps. Go in person. Those little things not everyone has to deal with or think about. And I have to remind them I’m undocumented and I have DACA. I have to do those extra few steps every time.”

Without the DACA employment authorization card, she can’t fill out the I-9 forms required for her freelance work. Over the week she was getting everything together, she was touching base with her various gigs to report on how the process was progressing.
She’s renewed her DACA every two years since the age of 16. Each time it has cost $500, and when she was first starting out she also paid for legal counsel to help guide her through the process. Now, after filling the forms out numerous times, she has the process down where she can do it all herself.

“I’ve done it three or four times,” she says. “They’re pretty good at sending it fast enough where you apply six months in advance. I was getting it three months in before, so I would lose those three months. I had it shaved off. This time, I waited. And now you can do it online, which is nice. It came within a month, and I timed it perfectly.”

Santos dreams of a day when others feel more comfortable coming forward with their own stories.

“I want the discussion [to become normalized enough] for DACA folks to be comfortable speaking on it,” she says. “We have a spot in the music industry.”

Touring can oftentimes prove tricky due to her inability to travel outside the U.S., but she has come across plenty of bands willing to work with her. As she plots out her upcoming tour, the team tells her they will go along with a local seller for the Canadian dates. She can get a hotel near the border and tag along as far as she can. For the rest of the shows in the United States, she’ll work as part of the team. No one else can tell how her status impacted one small part of the job.

“It truly did mean a lot that I was able to work with these people and they understand the situation,” she says. “[Being a recipient of DACA is] not that big of a deal because at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”