Art and article by Laura @cyborglaura
As children, we all dream about our futures. We dream about whether we want to be doctors or teachers or dancers or singers. As we grow into teenagers, some of these dreams become "more attainable" and more "realistic" through applying for college, internships, and jobs. However for others, including myself, this becomes a constant reminder of my immigrant status. I remember as a child I was always afraid that if my family or I ever did anything remotely bad and got caught by the police, we would be deported. It’s a very horrid thing to always have that thought at the back of your mind as a child. I was conditioned to not talk about my status because I would be in trouble. Even writing this now seems wrong because I feel like I should be in the shadows.
On June 15, 2012, the Obama administration created a policy called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This policy allows certain child immigrants to receive benefits such as work permits and a driver’s license depending on the legislation in the state. I myself have the privilege of benefitting from DACA and I am incredibly thankful for that. In order to apply for DACA, you must meet certain age, education, and lawful requirements.* With DACA, immigrant youth are given a two-year renewable amnesty and social security number, in which they may apply for a work permit and driver’s license. There are approximately 1.4 million immigrants in the United States currently that could meet the requirements to apply for DACA, which would have an obvious impact on these young adults in the future. The cost to apply for DACA is a $380 application fee and $85 for biometrics for a grand total of $465. Overall, DACA has had a huge impact on child immigrants and has helped them obtain college degrees as well as stable careers. Despite the fact that these assistances may exist, many children of immigrants and immigrant children have a hard time adjusting to traditional American life. Children of immigrants may be citizens, but often have to work excessively to support their parents due to old age and/or illness because their parents don't receive benefits such as retirement and unemployment benefits. Very often it feels like we have to work twice as hard as others, more specifically, US citizens, because you have to prove to others that you are worthy of respect and recognition.
Many child immigrants such as I, fear not being able to graduate college because of money or status, in general, will give us a negative connotation when applying for jobs and colleges. Although only sixteen states in the US allow undocumented immigrant students to pay for in-state tuition in their home state, only five allow these immigrant students to receive state financial aid**. Going to college has always been a priority for me, even though recently, I went through a creative block and I had no idea if art was really what I want to study. Often, I feel like I'm not worthy of a college degree. I feel like maybe I'm taking up the space of other immigrant youth that would make the world a better place. Maybe they want to be a doctor or a politician, and I just want to be an artist. And I may not even be a good one.
Growing up as an "illegal alien" brought a lot of identity dysphoria and feeling like my problems were insignificant. I used to lie about where I was born because I was scared. I felt like I didn't belong in the US because the news is constantly telling me how my family and I are ruining the economy and stealing jobs, but I felt like I didn't belong in Mexico because then the struggle my family had to endure, would be for nothing. My parents gave up everything they knew and everything they were comfortable with just so I wouldn't have to work as hard as them. The only place I know as my "home" doesn't really belong to me. I felt like I wasn't from here nor there. It's horrible feeling too Mexican, or too American, and not Mexican enough, or not American enough all at the same time.
Having to face these obstacles at an early age, I matured very quickly as a child. Being a translator for the family, filling out important documents, and later facing the challenge of supporting my family economically when they can no longer work, have all made me the individual I am. My future is unstable, it's easy to admit that, but these obstacles just make me more determined to break them for myself, for my parents, and for other child immigrants going through the same problems.
*Learn more about DACA and the requirements
**Learn more about the tuition benefits legislations in your state
More statistics about DACA and its recipients: 1, 2