(Editor’s Note: Given the political sensitivity of the subject matter, and the author’s legitimate fear of deportation, The Capital-Star has complied with his request to identify him only by his initials. The Capital-Star has independently verified his identity.)
Most Americans think of immigration in abstract terms. “Build that wall” went from being a campaign slogan to a pretext for shutting down the government and declaring a fake “national emergency.” It is not just an abstraction, however, for millions of families in America—families like mine.
My family came to the U.S. from Mexico when I was two years old, and we moved to Pennsylvania when I was five.
For the past 27 years I have lived in the Allentown area, and it is my home. Unlike most of my friends and classmates growing up I have lived under a cloud of uncertainty my entire life, knowing that at any moment the life that my family and I had built for ourselves could be taken away.
I have always been aware of my undocumented status, and it has haunted even the most mundane elements of my life here in Allentown.
Things that most people don’t think twice about — like driving to the grocery store or opening a bank account — could have come with devastating consequences for me and my family.
When I graduated high school, and my friends were talking about going off to college, starting a career, deciding what they wanted to be when they grew up, I could never fully participate in those conversations, and it made me feel isolated. I didn’t have the luxury of planning ahead, or indulging in dreams of the future; I had to focus on surviving one day at a time.
When I was in high school, I dreamed of flying jets in the Air Force, and one day going to college. I quickly found out, however, that these dreams would be denied. I was unable to enlist in the Air Force, and colleges told me I would have to pay out of state tuition, which put even community college out of my financial reach.
One college recommended I return for Mexico for the mandatory 10-year waiting period and return with legal status. But I wasn’t going to leave my family for 10 years just to potentially adjust my immigration status and later a chance at a college education.
- READ MORE: I’m a Mexican immigrant. Without a higher minimum wage, my American Dream is out of reach
As it turns out, it would be approximately 10 years before I got my shot at a college education.
I had resigned myself to a life of working low-wage jobs in restaurants and warehouses, but three years ago my life changed. I enrolled in a first-year seminar at Muhlenberg College to see if I could do it. I couldn’t afford the course, and I wasn’t eligible for student aid. So I decided to bet on myself, and opened a credit card to pay for the course.
My bet paid off. I did so well in that initial course that I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship reserved for non-traditional college students who had been active in community service and could demonstrate the ability to succeed in college classes.
I was working in a warehouse when I got the call telling me that I got the scholarship, and I will never forget how I felt in that moment.
At first I was in disbelief, I was not used to getting good news. For the first time in years, I felt that I could dare to dream of a better future for myself and my family. I am now a junior at Muhlenberg studying political science with a minor in Spanish and I hope to one day go to law school and become an immigration attorney.
One of the qualifications for the scholarship was a track record of community service. After my initial college dreams were dashed, I became an activist.
In 2010, the DREAM Act, which would have protected people like myself and my brothers who were brought here as small children, failed to pass the Senate by a mere five Democratic votes. The defeat was crushing, and I began to lose hope. We had fought so hard and still came up short. I felt like we were truly alone in our struggle.
Last month, the Dream and Promise Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill is an important first step to fixing our nation’s broken immigration system.
Even if it does become law, millions of people like my parents would still be unprotected, and my greatest fears are for them.
They brought us to America, like millions of immigrants before them, with dreams of a better life for their children, and they deserve to be able to live in peace with their family. I urge all of our federal lawmakers to move swiftly to take this critically important first step, and pass the Dream and Promise Act.