Five years ago today, I was having a pretty good day. I was still riding the high of getting into Harvard. I had a date for prom, and I had just gotten my dream prom dress. I was on my way home from the store with my mom when I got a frantic phone call from my best friend.
I didn’t have very good service, but I could make out the gist of what she was yelling: new law, papers for Dreamers. I didn’t believe it. I turned on the Spanish radio, and there it was, DACA. President Obama had created a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to give young undocumented people like me, who had come to the country as children, temporary permission to work and live here without fearing deportation.
My parents and I immigrated to the United States from Chile when I was 6 years old. Just like other immigrants, they wanted a better life. My mom told me I was undocumented very early on, to fuel my aspirations in school. I knew there was no way I would be able to afford to go to college without a full scholarship, so it pushed me to be the best.
Being a young undocumented person means constant uncertainty. It means existing in the space between two worlds, walking on a thin line of wanting and needing, but at the same time hating the invisibility that comes with a lack of legal status. “Dreamers” is what they call us.” We are individuals brought to the United States as young children and raised as Americans. But while we navigate our American identities, shadows loom in our futures.
DACA is a Band-Aid we put on the deep wound that is our nation’s immigration policy. We will continue to bleed through it until we find a real solution.
As adulthood approaches, childhood’s blanket of equality that shields most undocumented individuals begins to slip. Entering young adulthood means getting your license, driving, having a job, applying to college. All things that felt — and in some cases were — impossible to me because of my undocumented status. And this is when you start fading into invisibility: in part because of a society that refuses to see you as equal and in part because of the actions you have to take to protect yourself.
You don’t draw attention to yourself because you don’t want your friends to keep asking why you haven’t gotten your license yet. You hide your depression from the rest of the world because you don’t want their pity, and you certainly don’t want them to find out why you can’t just apply for financial aid to go to college.
And then came DACA. President Obama announced the program about two weeks before I graduated high school — right around the time when I started to wonder how I was going to pay for all of the books and other expenses that come with going to a different state for college. Disbelief turned into elation. It seemed that after years of drowning in uncertainty and the fear of a fast-approaching deadline only I could see, my life was finally coming together. And then I looked over and I saw my mom. She was crying. She was happy. Something was going right. Her sacrifices were justified.
Being DACA-mented is not the same as having long-term legal status. It puts you on the bottom of the priority list for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and allows you to obtain work authorization. Having that work permit in my hand meant everything. I knew that at least when I graduated college, I could look forward to starting a career.
But for many of us who have DACA, it’s a way of living our lives in some semblance of peace. Having “papers” means I can work, which means I can help support my family. But it also gives me great pride. It means that I don’t need to live in the shadows. I don’t need to hide. It means that all of the years I spent pushing myself in school weren’t wasted. It means that the life I have in the U.S. is worth something. I am able to contribute to my community.
But the biggest impact, by far, is that DACA gives me and many others the courage to be open and publicly share our experiences of the undocumented struggle. Not everyone is so lucky. While I can now feel more comfortable driving by a police car, the same cannot be said for my parents and millions of other parents and other undocumented people across the country. DACA is a Band-Aid we put on the deep wound that is our nation’s immigration policy. We will continue to bleed through it until we find a real solution.
Today is DACA’s five-year anniversary. In the past five years, hundreds of thousands of people like me have come out of the shadows and are building their lives and enriching their communities and the people around them. President Trump has promised to maintain the DACA program, but since his election, some people’s DACA has been rescinded. Now, more than ever before, it is essential that we keep fighting for those still invisible and those like me whose whole lives depend on this program.