Being the first in my family to go to college meant a lot to my parents, but for me it meant that I had to figure most things out as I went along. I had to take in everything at once, from figuring out classes and school tuition to getting a job to help pay rent.
And I had to deal with something that made me different from other students: my immigration status.
My parents came to the United States more than 15 years ago, when I was 7 years old, to give me and my brother a better future. They planned to stay for two years and save money, but they found more opportunities here than in Mexico. So we stayed, and my other two little siblings were born here and are United States citizens.
Now, with President Trump considering executive action to end the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, our family is at risk.
From a young age, I was not allowed to talk about being undocumented. My mother used to say, “Don’t tell anyone or la migra (immigration agents) will come.”
I kept quiet until my senior year in high school, when the college adviser asked me when I was going to submit my college application. I felt nervous and I started to sweat, but finally I told her.
I was lucky. She understood my situation and offered me help, including talking through the few scholarships available to me.
But the options were very limited. After graduation, I helped my mother sell food to construction workers and worked at a restaurant to be able to pay for school. But just before classes began, my grandmother in Mexico went into a diabetic coma.
My father wanted to go immediately, but if he went back, he risked being permanently separated from us. He decided to help from here, by using the money that he had for my tuition to pay for my grandmother’s medical care. It was a very difficult decision, as it meant I couldn’t attend college that fall, but I understood.
Months later, my grandmother passed away. My father was devastated. He was not able to say goodbye to his own mother.
I kept working to save up for the spring semester. When the semester began, I could only afford one class. I enrolled anyway, but I felt frustrated. I had given up my job to study, but, only taking one class, I started to think that I was never going to graduate.
Meanwhile, I began helping my mother clean apartments at a building that would soon become a homeless shelter. Later on, I met the landlord, who was looking for someone to help him with a family reunion. He asked me and I went to work at his house.
Then, DACA happened, and my life changed for the better.
On June 15, 2012, thanks to young immigrants who mobilized around the country, President Barack Obama issued, by executive order, temporary legal protections to people in my situation and allowed us to apply for a Social Security number and work legally in the United States.
That very day, the building owner offered me a maintenance job at the homeless shelter. I worked at that shelter for homeless New Yorkers for five years.
Two months later, I applied for DACA, and everything became easier. I could work legally and apply for scholarships to continue my education as a full-time student. I was finally able to walk around on the street without fear. Last year, I graduated from community college. Now I’m a senior at a four-year college.
Since Trump was elected, things have been different. On Election Night, I couldn’t watch with my family; I was just too emotional. When I started to see the map turning red on TV, I started to cry about what it might mean for my family. At school the next day, I cried again with my friends in the hallway.
Many people don’t understand the situations of young immigrants like me. They call us criminals and judge our parents for wanting a better future for us. These are the voices that Trump listens to — voices that don’t understand how hard it was for our parents to leave everything behind, including their own parents.
With Trump now considering ending DACA yet again — despite having said in the past that he wanted to show “heart” to young people like me — I have been feeling anxious. I’m scared not just for me but for my family. I don’t want to think about what would happen if I were deported, because my family depends on my salary, and there’s no easy way for them to find more work to support my siblings.
But I also know that, if Trump ends DACA, he will learn that we know how to fight back. We’re tough, we’re used to working hard, we’ve overcome disappointments. And now that we’re out of the shadows and connected, we’re even stronger than we were in 2012. We’re the last Americans to give up.
Dominguez is a Youth Power Project member of Make the Road New York.
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