Over the holiday break, I found myself drowning in uncertainty regarding my future in the United States.
For a moment, I had thought about the possibility of going back to school for a second master’s degree. Maybe I could pursue a field of study that would put my in-depth knowledge of immigration policy and politics to good use.
But after speaking to my mother about it, I led this exciting, imaginary scenario to its logical conclusion. Would I be able to handle the rigorous coursework ― or plan months or years ahead ― given the uncertainty around my current immigration status? This is the haunting question that often paralyzes young immigrants like myself, known as Dreamers, as they attempt to map out their futures.
For the past 10 years, I have been fighting to adjust my immigration status amid our nation’s broken immigration system. My family arrived in the United States in 2000 and applied for green cards, but they fell out of status and became undocumented following bad advice from our immigration attorney.
Despite the obstacles ― and, trust me, there are plenty ― I was able to graduate from high school, undergrad and graduate school. But those were different times.
Since 2012, I have been able to excel professionally and heal a lot of the psychological wounds caused by the fear of living under constant threat of deportation. All of this because former President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
While DACA was not perfect, the relief that it bought for up to 800,000 Dreamers like myself was immeasurable. Thanks to DACA, I was able to obtain a work permit, a driver’s license and a Social Security card ― three documents whose preciousness escape most American citizens.
“The real stress for many DACA recipients comes from the constant seesawing that Congress and the White House put on in full display across news outlets.”
With the help of the anti-immigrant Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House aide Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump has upended the lives of young aspiring Americans who, just like myself, want a shot at going to school, getting a job and pursuing the American dream.
Despite calls from Dreamers and their allies to codify DACA into law, anti-immigrant hawks in Congress and the White House have stalled a proposed agreement that paired government funding with protecting Dreamers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is “waiting” on the White House to tell him what he should legislate, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wants a “DACA compromise,” somehow ignoring about four different bipartisan immigration proposals to address the issue within his own chamber.
Congress needs to pass a spending bill by Friday to avoid a government shutdown, and this legislation may or may not include a DACA fix. A bipartisan solution for DACA is needed by March 5, the deadline President Trump gave Congress to solve the issue.
As Trump spars with both Democrats and Republicans over DACA proposals and describes some immigrants’ nations with vile language, fear and anxiety have gripped Dreamers all across the country. One can’t help but wonder: What kind of psychological harm is this perpetual limbo causing?
Personally, I have been worried about how I will help sustain myself, pay my bills and help my family from time to time with some of their expenses. But one of the main things that keeps me up at night is the thought of how other Dreamers are processing current events.
Right now, Dreamers are dealing with an insurmountable number of problems. Expiring work permits means losing the job that helps pay the bills. Losing a driver’s license means being unable to travel or drive anywhere in the United States. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real stress for many DACA recipients comes from the constant seesawing that Congress and the White House put on in full display across news outlets.
A majority of my advocacy is done online, engaging people and informing them of what they can do to help Dreamers. Not a day goes by when I don’t receive a message from a Dreamer who is crying inside a bathroom stall at their job because, on top of their day-to-day responsibilities, the headlines are too much to bear. An Idaho Dreamer expressed how numb and frustrated she feels due to all of the uncertainty. Others have confessed that the only reason they haven’t had a complete breakdown by now is that they are parents to toddlers and would hate to upset them.
Message after message expresses the same sentiment: terror. This is not the type of thing any Dreamer can shake off and will likely fester for years to come ― even if a deal on DACA is reached and signed into law. It will take time, and perhaps some therapy, to deal with the years of constant anxiety and the unprocessed feelings of not belonging.
The fight over Dreamer protection is being waged by some of the boldest people I have ever met. These young, bright and kind individuals are fighting for a chance to live a decent life in the United States ― even if it means swallowing the fear of potentially facing a swift and merciless deportation at the hands of Trump’s anti-immigrant forces. They have led sit-ins inside congressional offices, gone on hunger strikes and shared some of the most personal aspects about their lives to show their willingness to do what it takes to obtain a piece of paper that will certify them as Americans. But below that tough skin, underneath the awards and behind the diplomas is untold trauma that cannot be ignored.
There is no doubt that Dreamers are willing to go the extra mile. A deportation force has not deterred us, a database with all of our personal information has not stopped us and anti-immigrant politicians have not silenced us.
We are willing to go through all of this because we know that we are not just fighting for ourselves ― we are fighting for the dreams of our parents and families who worked just as hard to help us have better opportunities.
Juan Escalante is an immigrant advocate and online strategist who has been fighting for the Dream Act and pro-immigration policies at all levels of government for the past 10 years.