Tuesday was my first day back at school at Baruch College for my senior year. I had been looking forward to starting class again, but it was impossible to pay attention. I was completely distracted by the whiplash of news about whether Donald Trump would end the executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, — the policy President Barack Obama announced in 2012 that allowed almost 800,000 immigrant youths like me to step out of the shadows of society.
Several Republican state attorneys general have threatened to sue if the president doesn’t revoke DACA by Sept. 5. So all week, as rumors have flown around the internet about the fate of the “Dreamers,” those who benefit from DACA, I have been bombarded by texts and notifications.
I haven’t known what to share with my friends and family. I don’t want to add needlessly to the paranoia and fear that permeates my entire community.
It’s hard to overstate how much DACA changed everyday life for people like me. Before the executive order, I couldn’t legally get a job. I couldn’t get a state ID. I couldn’t apply for virtually any scholarships. And traveling was risky. After high school, I bought myself a ticket to my first trip outside of New York since arriving from Mexico. I sweated as I went through security, worried that someone might call immigration officials if they found out I was undocumented.
But with DACA, I got a Social Security number, a state ID and work authorization. I got a job at a fine-dining restaurant, which coincidentally, was located in one of Mr. Trump’s hotels. At the time, I was proud of that. I worked in a fancy building, named for a billionaire businessman who was famous on TV. I even bragged about it because, for the first time, I wasn’t worried about whether my employer would find out about my immigration status. I had been hiding for seven years, but I was done.
It’s not that the paranoia of my previous life ended: All of us Dreamers knew that DACA was a measure that provided temporary relief, subject to renewal. We all had our fingerprints taken, our criminal records scoured. We knew we needed to be good — so much depended on our good behavior. Undocumented students are generally pretty intense about following rules: We are tasked with proving that we belong here by being “perfect,” and we have to build respect for our families, who are sometimes in even more dangerous situations, and often even more careful about following rules.
This is something that is so misunderstood about Dreamers. We aren’t a group of young people who take our blessings for granted. We know how much rests on our shoulders.
The narrative about immigrants in this country is upsetting and wrong. I have never taken anything from anyone that did not belong to me, and I’ve worked hard for everything that I have achieved. Though undocumented immigrants contribute just as much as any other American, we don’t receive the same benefits. I pay taxes, but I don’t have health insurance. I can’t get state-funded financial aid in New York. I owe my hard-won college education not to the state, not to this country, but to my parents who paid out of their pockets and a scholarship and support from Make the Road New York, a community organization that supports undocumented youths.
I’ve worked hard to be able to study and build a future for myself, and with DACA it slowly started to pay off. I enrolled in a four-year college, and I’m close to getting my bachelor’s degree in public affairs.
To imagine that I might not be able to finish school, or that my degree might just be a useless paper on the wall because I won’t be able to get a job when I graduate, destroys me. My family could be separated; if I were to be deported, I would miss the childhoods of my niece and soon-to-be-born nephew. I want my family and my community to live free of this fear — the fear of being deported and the fear of seeking help, even when we’re sick.
I personally couldn’t go back into the shadows even if I tried. But the freedom I’ve gained, and the future I have worked so hard for, could be ripped away if DACA is repealed. What’s worse, I will probably find out about my future from a tweet by the president. Maybe it will all depend on his mood.
No matter what he says, the Dreamers are here to stay.