¿De Donde Soy?
Image Credit: Protesters at a DACA Rally in San Francisco. By Pax Ahimsa Gethen, via Wikimedia
I'd like to preface this narrative by first emphasizing that I feel blessed to be able to share this story with you. While this makes me happy, I would like to remind readers that there are stigmas surrounding undocumented immigrants that I believe cause others to form unhealthy opinions about us. To combat this, I write this narrative to shine a light on the intentions of immigrants and to give a different perspective than that of which is portrayed by news media – not only by presenting my personal life story, but by also describing the benefits of my call to action. Thank you.
Mamá, pero ¿por qué no puedo ir al field trip a Tallahassee con mis compañeros de clase? [Mom, but why am I not allowed to go to the Field Trip to Tallahassee with my classmates?] This conversation with my mother back in 4th grade will be remembered as the moment I discovered I was different from my schoolmates. Not different in appearance, although I was one of less than 20 students that was Hispanic in my grade. Not different in how we spoke, since I was fluent in English and didn't have an accent like my mother did. Not different in how we socialized, either, for I had made many close friends since I had arrived at my elementary school. What we differed in was in our birthplace, yet for years I had always believed this detail was the same for us all. Es muy peligroso, mi niño. No podemos arriesgarnos a que viajes muy lejos. [It's too dangerous, my child. We can't risk having you travel too far away.] But what did she mean? In this conversation, mi mamá had finally revealed to me that I was an undocumented immigrant. From this moment forward, I had to be cautious of what I revealed to others about myself; I had to research what activities in school I could participate in; I had to figure out what universities would accept an application from me; I had to perfect the lies I would give others when they asked why I was taking so long to get my driver's license or why I didn't want to study abroad in college. In short, I had to change many aspects of my life to ensure that my "true identity" was kept safe, all to ensure that my family and I were safe. These troubles, while many times difficult to handle, were alleviated in a way when a certain program was created in the United States by President Barack Obama.
From Mexico to South Korea, Brazil to India, Honduras to Poland, all 800,00 of us hail from all parts of the world, each of us with our own unique life stories, yet all sharing one equally unique commonality. We were all brought to the United States at a young age by our parents, making us all immigrants here in the states. More specifically, we are all under the protection of a program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Created under the Obama Administration in 2012, DACA allowed "certain people who came to the United States as children and [met] several guidelines [the ability to] request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal" (Consideration of DACA). In short, the criteria needed to be met by a requestor of DACA included a certain date and age of arrival in the US, continuous US residency up until point of application for DACA status, enrollment in or graduation from a US high school, and a clean criminal record. If these criteria were met, DACA was to be granted to an individual, allowing him/her to obtain a social security number, a work permit, a driver's license, and the ability to pursue a higher education; most importantly, it would allow his/her burdens of stress and worry about the possibility of deportation to subside for two years. This is how the process went for me and the hundreds of thousands of other immigrant children when the creation of the program was announced.
While DACA has many benefits, all of which allow us DACAmented immigrants to enjoy a taste of the true American Dream – one in which we can peacefully live in the US – DACA also has some problems. The major problems with DACA are that it doesn't provide a path to citizenship and it must be renewed every two years. In other words, we only enjoy the taste of the American Dream for two years, until our undocumented parents must save up the money to repurchase this taste, many times struggling to do so because of their inability to gain high paying employment without legal work authorization. However, all of DACA's problems became irrelevant when the Trump Administration – under mounting pressure from multiple state attorneys general planning to take DACA to court – announced the ending of the program. What replaced these problems was the reemergence of the fears and worries that haunted me in elementary, middle, and high school. The worries of immigration officers showing up at my doorsteps in the middle of the night to detain me and my family. The worries of being removed from the university I dedicated years of hard work to get into through my intense participation in my academics, extracurricular activities, and community service. The worries of having to be deported to the foreign country whose name is printed on my birth certificate and whose violence and poverty are highlighted in the news media every day. The worries of being torn apart from the friends, neighbors, professors, coworkers, and officials I have become acquainted with during my life here in the US. Your family is going to be torn apart. These people don't want you here, you're a foreigner. Your hard work was never worth it. Don't tell your friends that you're an immigrant, lie that you were born in the states. These worries and thoughts, while not visible to those around me, always loom in the back of my head, sometimes consuming me as I try to focus on completing homework assignments, finishing exams, paying attention to lectures, and socializing with others in my community. Even as I write this narrative, I sigh in frustration and must take breaks at times because these thoughts and worries are too heavy for me to manage. Yet I don't give up, for, while others may doubt my intentions, I fully understand my mother's intentions in bringing my brother and I to the states.
Born with a brain tumor, my brother had to undergo surgery in Honduras as a toddler. After the surgery, my brother was left with epilepsy. The problem was that the medical system in Honduras couldn't treat his condition well, so my mother made the decision to leave everything she knew behind and bring us to the land of opportunity. Here in the US, my mother found medical help for my brother, and his epilepsy was quickly stabilized. To add to this, my brother and I were enrolled in the public education system here in the US, and were fortunate to quickly become fluent speakers of the English language at the relatively – compared to other immigrants who face difficulties in learning a foreign language – early ages of 6 and 8. We both became honor students in school, and my mom soon realized that her sacrifices were paying off. Specifically, I was able to use my newly learned language from school over the years – and I continue to do so – in meetings, doctor's appointments, and at job interviews to help mi mamá. While these tasks have many times seemed intimidating, especially when as a child of 6, 7, and 8 years of age, I've always known these were the things that have been worthwhile in ensuring our prosperity here in the states.
While, at first, we only came to the states in search of medical attention, and while this continues to be our priority, our intentions developed relating to education and work. Like with other families, my mother envisions my brother and I pursuing a higher education and finding a job that will make a difference in the world, and she instilled powerful mindsets of hard work within us at a young age. Even now, however, my brother and I realize the severity of our situation as undocumented immigrants in the states. We were told at a young age to never reveal this detail about ourselves, always stating we had been born in Florida – a seemingly never-ending lie we would tell even to our closest friends. But what could we do? My family's situation isn't a unique one, and many US citizens don't realize the obstacles we immigrants face daily. There are myriad reasons that families immigrate to the US, ranging from wanting to escape violent communities to wanting to find job opportunities. In Honduras, for example, along with the medical system being poor, violence and crime rates are rampant throughout the country. Currently, with the presidential elections at full steam, violent protests have erupted in the major cities across that country, causing the streets to be declared unsafe for families and children to walk through. However, these violent acts do not cease after presidential elections – the violent acts are part of a widespread failure within the law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and other complex systems, a stark contrast to life in the states.
The path for legality for us DACA students has been, and seems like it will continue to be, a long, hard-fought battle. However, to remedy this thought, I remind myself of the thousands of US citizens who support us and use their voice to empower my silent voice through protests and in the voting booth. I remind myself of the politicians, on both sides of the aisle, who are working diligently in Congress to find a solution that will help me and other immigrants, not just those who came to the US as a child. More importantly, though, I remind myself of those "average" US citizens – high school students, college students, employees – who go out of their way to find time in their busy schedules to aid us in the fight for legality. As much as this is highlighted in government classes in school, I feel like many people underestimate the role of a nation's citizens in determining the nation's laws and future; and, a simple way to voice one's opinions on topics like DACA, whether for or against it, is simply by calling one's Congressional representatives. This can be done by simply dialing: 1-888-496-3502 to be connected to your Representative and 1-888-410-0619 to be connected to your Senator's office. By dialing these numbers and voicing your opinions, even you can give a voice to those who are in the shadows, and will be informing those who make your nation's laws what is important to you. By voicing your opinions, you have the chance to allow more people to earn better job opportunities, allow more students the opportunity to study abroad, and allow more people to live in the comfort of their home without the burdensome worries and feelings that they may soon be removed from that home. In doing so, these mountainous obstacles that seem impossible to be dealt with alone for us DACA students, can be climbed over. Porque con la determinación y las ganas de muchos, cualquier cosa se puede lograr. [Because with the determination and desire of many, anything can be achieved.]