With President Trump’s decision to end DACA, it felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. Thoughts started racing through my mind as soon as Jeff Sessions made the announcement. If I lose my work permit, how would I continue to provide for my son? How would I pay for my home and my car? What would happen if I were to get arrested and deported? What about my brother?
As media coverage reached a new volume, and pundits argued back and forth over the contributions of immigrants to the American economy, I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was missing the point. It seemed like my story and my life weren’t part of the conversation. DACA recipients like me aren’t just adding money to the economy ― we have feelings and relationships that we have built a life around in the only place that we know as home.
When I was 7 years old, my parents migrated to Georgia, where my dad’s brother and sister lived with their families. A year later my 3-year-old brother and I followed them. I can still remember how upset I was before leaving because I didn’t want to leave my grandparents alone, but I longed to hug and kiss my parents. I remember some parts of the trip, like not being able to sleep so I could take care of my little brother, and eating barbecue beans for the first time. When we arrived, my parents were so happy to see us. I was in awe of the beautiful place my parents lived in and how different everything was there from our home back in Mexico.
Throughout our childhood, my parents worked hard every day and my brother and I went to school. We were told to do the best that we could and to do well in our studies ― our immigration status never limited what we could accomplish in school. As my freshman year of high school approached, I assumed I would be able to start applying to colleges and get a part time job to help my parents. But I soon learned that my status meant I would have to go back to Mexico and attempt to return to the U.S. on a student visa for college. Still, I worked hard and made good grades. I was in my school’s band, I took AP classes, and my dream was to become an English teacher.
When DACA was introduced in 2012, I had just graduated high school, had a baby, and was newly married. After my new status was approved for the first time, I worked a few part-time jobs to add some experience to my resume and eventually found a great full-time job. This is what most of the DACA conversation is based around: how are we contributing to the economy, how much money are we bringing home, and are we somehow taking a job away from someone else? But to me, my status meant that my son wouldn’t have to worry if his mom would come home at the end of the day, like I had feared when my brother and I were younger and living with my parents. It meant that I could stop feeling like a burden for constantly needing to ask my friends and coworkers for rides to my son’s doctor or even the park.
While in Georgia, my son’s father was offered a job transfer to California. The move meant that I had to leave my family behind, and I felt what my parents must have felt when they left their own families back in Mexico for a better life for us. I was now married to an American citizen, but due to issues in our marriage, I filed and was granted a divorce only a couple of months after we had moved to California. I realized this meant it would be harder for me to be able to obtain legal residency or citizenship. I also knew that I still had to provide for my son and keep moving forward. His health and safety has always been the number one priority in my heart ― thankfully, my DACA status meant I had an opportunity to stay safely in the country and earn a living.
Today, the possibility of losing everything that I have worked for is agonizing. There are so many of us out there doing and being the things that our families never had the chance to, all because they were not born here. While we understand that there are legal ways to come to the United States, when you have a family to provide for, you will do whatever you can to bring food to the table and keep a roof over their heads.
Now, my family faces greater uncertainty than ever. My mother, who still lives in Georgia, 17 years later, was recently in a car accident. Despite the other driver being at fault, she was arrested for not being able to provide a driver’s license and now faces deportation proceedings. So my son and I recently took a trip to see my family and to also say goodbye to my mom. As painful as it was, it hurt so much more because it may also be the last time my son will get to see his “Abita,” the name he calls her. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth, only that his Abita was going to go away for a little bit. I don’t want my son to ever feel the same way that I feel now if I were ever to be in her situation. My dad has tried to remain strong and still go to work every day, but I know that he is hurting. They had recently purchased their home, had their cars payed for and all of that is nothing but a memory at the snap of a finger. During our visit, she asked me if I was happy in my new relationship, if I am going to move back, and what will I do if DACA is ended and nothing else comes in its place. I tried to stay calm and answer her questions, but I just wanted to wake up from this horrible nightmare. My mom has tried to remain positive, but I have never seen her eyes filled with so much despair and pain, only being able to talk to us through a glass window. Coming back home to California, I felt like a big piece of my heart stayed in the cell with her.
I’m now left wondering what will happen to my family in more ways than one. My son just turned five and started kindergarten, I am in a two-year relationship with a man who I love and who has helped me through so many of these obstacles, and yet, when my DACA status expires, I could lose it all.
DACA has provided more than just jobs and the ability to drive without being worried that I’ll get pulled over – it has given us the freedom and resources to be the best that we can be. My hope is that something else better comes out of the DACA debate, and hopefully soon. I still want to go back to school to become a teacher. I don’t want to fear for my safety and future, or for my son’s. While our families may have come to the U.S. in pursuit of economic opportunity, I don’t want it to be forgotten that our lives are much more than that.
*Full name has been withheld to protect the author’s privacy.