DACA fulfilled his dream, grad says

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Editor’s note: This opinion article was written by a recent Linfield graduate who asked to remain anonymous because he knew students who expressed their views about DACA and were harassed for it.

When I was 8 years old my family and I moved to Portland from Guadalajara, México.

Their choice came after an economic collapse similar to that of 2008 in which my father lost his job as an architect and my mother couldn’t get her job back as a business administrator at a bank. A stream of robberies at gunpoint convinced my parents that this was not a place where two college educated individuals felt safe raising a family.

We were granted visas with the intent of returning to Mexico where the rest of our family still resides and/or to apply for citizenship and remain in the U.S. With the continued violence and economic difficulties in our hometown, my parents were convinced that applying to stay in America was a much better choice.

What we didn’t see coming was the difficulty of gaining that status. It’s a common myth that all immigrants have to do is walk into the immigration office, fill out a piece of paper, and all problems are solved. There are very specific and difficult ways to qualify for residency, aside from being put on a waitlist.

It can take decades to be called up for an opportunity at residency unless you fulfill specific requirements from the government.

There really isn’t a direct way to apply for residency. This left our family stranded, in limbo with the idea of immigration reform no longer a reality.

At age 8, I never realized how much not being a resident in the United States would challenge me.

When I was 16 I hit my first challenge when I couldn’t get a job at my local swimming pool because my visa had expired and I didn’t have a current work permit. I coped by staying focused in school and being involved in sports.

I graduated high school with the highest honors and won a state championship in swimming my senior year, but I still hit the same boundaries as before. I couldn’t qualify for federal aid or college scholarships. I had to postpone my dream of swimming in college and continuing my education to become a nurse.

In 2012, President Obama used executive action to pass the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This was a selective program that allowed individuals who were brought to the U.S. when they were children and in good legal standing like myself an opportunity to obtain a work permit, a social security number, and protection from deportation.

The permits granted would cost nearly $500 every two years to renew, but did not give those granted the ability to qualify for federal benefits. Contrary to popular belief, that means no federal loans for college, no housing assistance, no food stamps, and no federal grants despite being charged taxes. Nonetheless, this program granted me the ability to finally pursue my dream of becoming a nurse.

To say the last three years of my life at Linfield were challenging as an immigrant is an understatement. There were instances during my time as a student athlete where I had to work three different jobs at once to make my living expenses and fund my education.

I was running a competitive swimming program at Mt. Hood Community College, attending nursing school where I often had 12-hour shifts at the hospital, swimming competitively, working at a retirement center and the front desk at MHCC pool, and trying to figure out how to balance my family and friends.

Despite these challenges, I did it. I became the first in my immediate family to graduate from college in the U.S. and there is no way I could have accomplished that without DACA.

The program gave me the opportunity to thrive as an active community member. I now have a job awaiting me as a children’s psychiatric and behavioral mental health nurse once I pass my licensing exam later this month.

The repeal of DACA takes away people’s safety net. Without the work permit, the repeal of DACA will leave almost one million people who have no criminal records, who know no other place to call home, and who mostly only speak English, without jobs.

DACA was never meant to be a permanent solution, but without the program there is a lot of fear and uncertainty that hasn’t been felt in this community for almost five years.

The one positive outcome that can come out of this is that Congress now must work on passing comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform.

The DREAM Act, which would exchange residency for completion at a four-year American accredited university, has failed twice in Congress in the last 16 years. The bill is gathering more public and bipartisan support and gives hope and motivation to many to continue building America as a model nation.

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DACA fulfilled his dream, grad says