Powerlessness, alienation, worthlessness, and shame. These are the common fear-induced emotions that I have felt since learning about my undocumented status. I was born in 1996 in Guadalajara, Mexico and brought to the United States by my parents when I was just a baby. McKinney, Texas was the only home I knew, but somehow it was wrong for me to be there. At the age of 5 I quickly learned to lie about my status to protect myself and my family.
Growing up, I was grateful for the public education system because it allowed routine, normalcy, a social life, and a means for education. Oftentimes, though, I felt inferior to my white classmates. I would hear of their at-home routines and how different they were from my own and felt as though my culture was something to be ashamed of. My culture was not normal or praised in the American school system. I felt embarrassed and like I needed to hide my authentic self even further.
Fast forward to high school: when my friends were getting their driver’s licenses and applying for college, I felt left out. It seemed like my undocumented status would prevent me from leading a normal, full life in the U.S.
I was 18 when I first heard about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. I felt like maybe there was hope after all because the president of the United States was talking about my experience, something that was hidden in the shadows and brought so much shame. He did it so openly and with great confidence.
As I listened closely and eagerly to Barack Obama, I learned that DACA gives immigrants who were brought to the states as children an opportunity to establish an education and work legally within the U.S. When I turned off the TV after his executive order announcement, it still seemed too good to be true. For my entire life I had been keeping my undocumented status a secret, and all of a sudden President Obama was saying I could “come out of the shadows.” I wasn’t sure I could trust him.
The summer of my high school graduation, I moved to San Antonio due to my parents’ separation. I moved to a 11-by-10-foot bedroom with no driver’s license, social life, or source of income — and no friends, family or community to fall back on. I experienced levels of isolation that were unhealthy. I was finally of legal age but didn’t have any means of independence.
My friends back in McKinney were going away to college, the military or going straight to work. Seeing them move on with their lives, I realized I had no idea what it meant to be an American. What did being an American truly mean? Because I felt as though I was. I studied in the American school system since kindergarten. I stood up and pledged to the American flag every morning, yet, I couldn’t truly claim the title of American. Eventually, as a year flew by in San Antonio, I grew to feel isolated and miserable, but with drive and optimism. I decided to apply for DACA.
After months of waiting, I finally got my approval letter. I remember screaming and crying tears of joy. I imagined it was how my friends felt in high school when they got a college acceptance letter. After my excitement settled, my mind rushed to a plan. I knew my next steps would be to enroll in community college and apply for jobs. I was only thinking of the immediate things I could do for myself. I had confidence that I would excel in everything I did because I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to even do so.
I’ve renewed twice since my first DACA approval. An initial and renewal application entails a $495 fee that I pay, zero criminal record, two separate renewal forms that are each about six pages long, a waiting period to hear back that only happens through mail correspondence, fingerprint biometrics and photo, and, lastly, the final mail correspondence containing my work authorization employment card: the golden ticket.
However, this year, the renewal process that usually took me three months, is now going on seven months without word of my application status. My authorization of employment card expired in February. With COVID-19 isolation mixed with my independence taken away, I have had months of introspective thoughts once again. What I once thought of as immediate plans to head towards success after receiving my initial approval as a 20 year old has now turned into a harsh reality of realizing my worth.
As DACA recipients, we often hear from presidential candidates of their future plans for us. From President Joe Biden, we have heard he is pro-DACA but has yet to give a real push of action toward a pathway to citizenship. The 616,000 of DACA recipients have proven their worth and devotion to this country. We have given all of our economic benefits to this country with zero benefits in return, given that government aid is not applicable to us. In fact, we have proven ourselves through passing the DACA eligibility requirements.
We are no longer in the shadows but we are still in the middle of uncertainty. We work to benefit the economy and study in American school systems, only to be a political topic to dangle in front of voters. We have faced empty promises from three presidents but are told to be grateful. I’m not grateful for the constant uncertainty and anxiety of this grey area that was painted with pretty words by our former president Obama.
For the 5,000 DACA recipients in San Antonio and the 616,000 in the country, we are more than enough. We deserve and need action now from our local and federal representatives, nonprofits, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and our president. I don’t want another official to talk about what we ought to do as a country when deciding about DACA. Let’s talk about a law in place that sets us free from the in-between once and for all.