The following first-person essay comes from a NextGen staff-member who is a DACA recipient. She decided to share her experiences in recognition of Immigrant Heritage Month, and to lend a voice to the nearly 1.9 million Dreamers who continue to live in the shadows while politicians fail to act.
I stood waiting at my local city college registrar’s office. I was still in high school at the time, but my friends and I planned to take a chemistry class offered by the college over the summer — willing and even eager to trade poolside shenanigans for yet more schooling.
But when I handed my neatly compiled application over to the office administrator, she gently slid the deck of papers back to me and motioned to a blank line at the top-left corner of the sheet, which she had graciously highlighted: “Social Security Number.” But I didn’t have one. I walked back to where my dad was waiting with the car, and by the end of our half-hour ride home I learned that I was undocumented. I was 15.
Fast forward to today, I’m still here in this country that I’ve called home for over 20 years, still undocumented, still actively working every day to be unafraid.
I am one of the nearly 700,000 undocumented young people who have qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As soon as I found out about my undocumented status, I prepared all of my documents, submitted my biometric data to the government, passed rigorous background checks, paid the $495 processing fee, and repeated this process every two years. As a DACA recipient, I have had the privilege of attaining my higher educational goals and receiving work authorization to build my career.
DACA has been a saving grace that has given me the ability to think about a bigger and brighter future for myself. But DACA protections are temporary, restrictive, and under constant legal threat from politicians who view recipients as bargaining chips, scapegoats, or worse.
Dreamers deserve bold, permanent protections that will prevent us from being ripped away from our communities and loved ones.
That’s what brought me to the work I do at NextGen America. As a Dreamer, I do not get the choice or luxury of being apolitical. My identity is inextricably linked to politics in a way that I cannot control. I cannot follow politics with merely casual interest, because my life — my people — may be one roll-call vote away from being stripped of our humanity and dignity. That’s why I’ve dedicated my work to championing the one group with more collective power than the politicians who make our laws — their constituents.
I cannot directly participate in our democracy, so I’ve elected to do the next closest thing. At NextGen, I strive to empower and mobilize voters to speak up for themselves and their communities with their ballot. The progressive victories we’ve delivered give me the hope that we will build a just immigration system that lives up to the promises of American equality.
As we celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month and observe DACA’s ninth anniversary this week, please join me in urging our senators and President Biden to do everything in their power to pass the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and sign it into law.
The Dream and Promise Act provides a permanent pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients. Vital members of our community would get a real chance at life, without the uncertainty and fear of possible separation or deportation.
The Dream and Promise Act has already passed in the House. Now, it’s up to the Senate to get the bill to President Biden’s desk so he may swiftly sign it into law — and unlock the full potential of hundreds of thousands of young Americans.