I am not illegal.
Today I stumbled upon an article that talked about Golden Door, a program aimed to help undocumented students continue their education. The article talks about the expansion of the program and how it has helped 92 undocumented students attend college, and how the all the students who have graduated so far had job offers. Feeling proud of the accomplishments of those involved in the program, and being a part of it myself, I decided to read the comments to read the reaction of those around me.
The negativity that people poured into the comment section was beyond any of my expectations. A man talked about how we are just here to steal jobs. Someone said we need to be deported right now. Another person thought it necessary to talk about our inability to contribute to society. One guy thought it was funny to talk about how if we were somewhere else we would be incarcerated. All of these comments referred to us as illegals.
Illegal is defined as forbidden by law, especially criminal law. I am not defined as forbidden by law. No law in any country can tell me that I am a criminal simply for wanting a better life. I did not come to the U.S. by choice, as I was a child, but I will never resent my parents for making that decision for me. They chose to give up their lives and careers for my wellbeing, and that is more than I could ever ask for. To see the negativity hurts, and it stings to see people truly think of me as a criminal.
No law in any country can tell me that I am a criminal simply for wanting a better life.
A criminal who stays up every Friday night doing homework in her dorm alone. A criminal who spends her free time volunteering at schools, free clinics, and with her brothers soccer team. A criminal who would rather defend an actual criminal’s rights than see them suffer for the rest of their lives, regardless of their crimes. A criminal who still feels the sting when someone calls her that, because all she’s ever wanted is to proof that she is not a criminal.
I refuse to allow people to continue with the idea that I am a criminal. I am not a criminal because I don’t have a green card. I am not a criminal for working day and night to get through school and become the best candidate for a job. My dad is not a criminal for being willing to work every weekend and holiday in order to provide for my family, when citizens have the privilege to turn these jobs down. My mom is not a criminal for spending all day at my little brother’s school getting to know his teachers and helping with the other kids. My brothers are not criminals for having dreams just as big as any other person their age. My friends are not criminals for taking jobs at places they hate only to pay for their college tuition because they receive no financial aid.
To say I am illegal is to deny my humanity and reduce me to a criminal. To say we are illegal is to say our entire existence is defined by the laws of a country who thinks of us as numbers not people. I am not a criminal ― we are not criminals ― because we are not illegal. It has taken us years to be able to come out of the shadows, but today we are unafraid. We are unapologetic. We are undocumented.
This post first appeared on Medium.