It's a happy time for me and many other immigrants because President Obama's sweeping immigration policy reform, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which the White House mandated two months ago, recently went in to effect. Those of us who benefit--basically Americans who were brought into this country without documents when they were under 16, have gotten (or are trying to get) an education, or have served in the armed forces--can begin the application process to get permission to remain and work in this country legally without fear of deportation for at least two years.
I count myself among those who are affected by this new policy because even though I'm a U.S. citizen today, I didn't start out as a legal immigrant when I came into this country.
Yes, you read that correctly. I am outing myself: I came into the United States illegally when I was 7 years old. My mom and I came in through Reynosa, Mexico into McAllen, Texas one April day. I wasn't even aware of the future ramifications of what my mom was doing or what it really meant for me. All I knew was that I was coming to Los Estados Unidos to live -- and I honestly can't remember much of those days, except how cool the ice cream was in this new country!
This is why I feel personally affected by this change in policy. For all of the kids who had been fighting for the DREAM act to pass, the news of this policy change and halt in these unfair deportations was a sweet victory. (Even though they're still not technically legal residents, this new law also means that fear of deportation has become a non-factor when trying to apply for jobs or continue their studies.)
I became a legal resident a few years after coming to the U.S.--a result of my mom's wedding to my amazing stepdad, who was a citizen. I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn't had the luck and luxury of being able to legalize my status so early on. I have read the heart-wrenching details of kids (like I once was!), who are dying to go to school and take advantage of the opportunities here, but were denied because they were brought to this country illegally.
I can't even imagine what would have happened to me if when I was 18 and ready to start college if I would have been told I could NOT because of my legal status. I didn't even fully understand any of that when I was a teenager. I was 100 percent American--I mean, I was obsessed with Nirvana and Biggie at the time (cough, cough, I know I'm dating myself)--and had absolutely no connection to Colombia except for the family that still remained there. But if my mother and I hadn't gotten so lucky, I may have had to give up my dream of going to college, and, worse yet, may have had to leave the only life I really knew to go back to my parents' native country.
My heart breaks every time I read about a young Latino who isn't allowed to attend her dream school because of something that is completely out of her control. Being a child who had no choice when her parents decided to move to the States illegally. I am lucky to have been able to go to college, work, and live here, with all my documents in place. But I know I could have just as easily been one of the ones fighting to stay here. And because of that, I'll always advocate for the rights of all of us as immigrants--illegal, undocumented, or otherwise--in this country.