Exactly what about me is illegal?
As told to Justine McDaniel
I am a 20-year-old woman. I graduated from Santa Rosa High School, where I was junior class president and Associated Student Body president. I speak three languages. I was voted "Most Admired" in my senior class. I just completed my second year of college. I am an illegal immigrant.
I was 11 months old when my parents brought me to the United States from Mexico. My dad was an accountant in Mexico, but we starved. It's not easy to pick up and leave, but my parents were thinking about my future.
I first realized I was different when I was in the third grade. After immigration raids on my neighborhood, I thought my family would be deported, and I started crying at school. When my teacher asked me what was wrong, I said I didn't want my mom to get taken away.
From then on, I started thinking about my future. I got obsessed with college. I felt vulnerable and powerless, but I thought being a good student would somehow help.
My parents have appealed their case for residency twice since 2007. Now it is up before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and there's no way to know when our case will be heard. We have spent over $15,000. Because of the lawyer fees, we lost our house and I had to return from my four-year university to go to the SRJC. My parents divorced after our house was foreclosed on. Most workplaces won't hire people who aren't citizens, so it is difficult for me to find a job. I'm really interested in politics, but I have to pretend that I vote. I still don't have a driver's license. It was huge in high school having to lie to all of my friends whenever they asked why I didn't have it. Every normal hardship is that much harder.
I can't apply for residency myself, because to get a green card, a spouse, parent or sibling who is over 21 has to petition on your behalf. The oldest of my brothers is 16, so I will have to wait at least five years.
I have so much ambition, but it is easy for it to feel squashed when I am fighting against this. When I was in high school, my parents had to go to San Francisco twice a month to report to an officer. If anything in our life changed, we had to tell them—from buying a new car to moving. Authorities came and visited us once a week. They wouldn't tell us exactly when they would come, but if they showed up and my parents weren't home it was a strike against us.
Our "illegal" status affects every aspect of our lives. I grew up ashamed of who I am. I knew I wasn't wanted here, so I always felt I didn't belong—even though I knew I did. In high school, I only told a few friends because I was so scared of people's reactions. I thought people would treat me differently and that it would put my family in jeopardy. Now I'm not ashamed, but I am so afraid of losing everything I've worked for. My biggest fear is that my family will be separated: my parents and I will be deported and my brothers—born on U.S. soil—will stay here, and I won't be able to pursue my education and career.
People have a lot of preconceived ideas about what illegal immigrants look like and why we're here. It's not an easy decision. People don't just wake up one morning and walk across the border. People like my family pay taxes, go to school, abide by the law and assimilate. We are assets to society. There are countless amazing people you'd never know weren't citizens. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet other students in my situation. It is inspiring to share our experiences as successful, contributing students. Yet there is no avenue for us to become part of the country that has been our home for almost our whole lives.
I came here before I could talk. I took my first steps in San Francisco. I was raised in America. I am an American. I just don't have a piece of paper legitimizing that identity.
I don't know what the future holds, and I am still too uncertain to publish my name, but I hope this will reveal my story to those who can recognize my background.
I'm starting my junior year at San Francisco State next month. I'm working as a nanny and saving money. I'm a regular girl, someone you say "Hi" to at school. I'm a high achiever. I'm an excellent student. I'm a hard worker. I'm a daughter and I'm a sister. I'm an illegal immigrant.
The DREAM Act, currently in Congress, would help students like the author. To help make a change, research the DREAM Act and urge your representatives to help pass it.
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