I will not live in fear. And neither will the 700,000 undocumented immigrants like me.
Two years ago, when President Donald Trump moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, I said, “I’ll see you in court, Mr. President.” Now, the case that bears my name, McAleenan v. Vidal, is one of three consolidated cases that has reached the highest court in the land. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on which my future hangs.
As a person who depends on DACA to remain in this country, I vividly remember that September day in 2017 when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s decision to terminate the program that protects undocumented immigrants like myself from deportation. I was at the rehabilitation center where I work, helping a therapist with a patient. My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing from text messages and calls from my friends — the news broke, what were we going to do? My stomach tightened, my body felt weak, tears welled in my eyes. My best friend sent me a message, “That’s it. It’s over.”
But it was not over. As scary as that moment was, I didn’t let fear consume me. The immigration story of my family has centered on our resilience — to cross the border, to make it to New York, and to make it in New York — and no presidential decree could take that away from me. DACA has changed my life and protected my family: It has allowed me to go back to school, start my career, and feel safe with my family knowing I wouldn’t be separated from them. And I knew that, with hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth across the country and our allies, we would fight to keep it.
Fight it we have, with immigrant youth, immigrant rights organizations, and many states challenging the administration’s reckless decision to end DACA. Thousands of us have taken to the streets and proudly come out as undocumented across the country. We have marched, protested, taken over congressional offices, and even put our bodies on the line to demand dignity and respect for all of our communities. And, because of this persistence, we have won in the courts. The program remains in place for now.
But today the Supreme Court is considering President Trump’s unlawful termination of the DACA program. Courts across the country have repeatedly agreed that the Trump’s administration termination of DACA was arbitrary and capricious, and now the question lies with the highest court.
If the Court sides with Trump, the consequences would be devastating for me, my family, and communities across the country. For the past seven years, over 700,000 young undocumented immigrants, who came to the United States as children, have been able to work at the jobs of their choosing, graduate from schools around the country, contribute billions of dollars to the economy, and support their families and communities — all because of DACA.
We are business owners, artists, school teachers, lawyers, mothers, fathers, and nurses like me. Even though the program’s structure has meant that I have been living my life in two-year increments (recipients must reapply every two years), DACA provides me with critical immigration relief, allowing me to work and remain in the United States with my family.
With DACA, I have been able to grow up with my siblings. Together, we have been able to celebrate our birthdays and christenings. I have been able to help them with their homework, see them graduate from middle school and high school, and even help them get over their first heartbreak.
DACA has allowed me to find myself and build a future. I am now back in college and have a chance to pursue a career as an occupational therapist. Plus, I have been able to become an economic support for my mother and my younger brothers. My mother has worked immensely hard to always provide a home where we can sleep peacefully and fill our bellies with her delicious cooking. As the Supreme Court arguments grow near, my mother constantly wonders what is going to happen to me. My eyes fill up with tears as I try to stay strong. I hold my mother and tell her: “Ma, don’t worry, we will win.” My fight is as much for her as it is for me.
Just as importantly, the security of having DACA helped me to be able to proudly come out as gay and unafraid. I no longer live in fear. I will fight until the very end to not be ripped away from my mother, my community, and the place I have called home for over 20 years.
That’s why I have also joined immigrant youth from all over the country in a historic march that started in New York City and ended in Washington, DC this weekend. Over a hundred DACA recipients, community leaders, and allies with Make the Road New York, NAKASEC, and the Home Is Here campaign marched 230 miles to the steps of the US Supreme Court. Our message is clear: The termination of DACA was unlawful and we will continue to show our resilience as we fight for our futures. We aren’t going back into hiding. We’re standing up as a community, stronger than ever — ready to fight.
Since the day the Trump administration unlawfully terminated DACA, we have repeatedly been used as pawns, like our lives are pieces that could be easily moved to negotiate whatever policy seems most convenient at the moment. But my life, and the lives of immigrant youth, are not bargaining chips in any political game. We demand that this country recognize our full humanity, period.
The law and the overwhelming majority of the country are on our side. Now it’s time for the US Supreme Court to uphold the rule of law, affirm the lower court injunctions, and leave DACA in place.
Immigrant youth will win, Mr. President. And, like it or not, we and our families are here to stay.
Martín Batalla Vidal is the lead plaintiff in McAleenan v. Vidal, Martin, J., et al, and a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community.