Thanksgiving is a time when American families living under the terrifying threat of deportation will gather. We know that pilgrims were immigrants, too. We know how to bake a turkey until it's golden and go nuts when our team gets a key first down (Go Lobos!). Like I said, American families.
A key first down. That's what it felt like on June 15, 2012, the day President Obama approached the podium in the White House Rose Garden. On the ninety-minute train from Santa Fe to Albuquerque for class at the University of Mexico, my phone rang with a call from a fellow Dreamer in Washington, D.C. She was frantic. The president had announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, an executive order that protects people like me from deportation.
I cried a lot. So did my mom. So did a lot of moms. There was and remains a lot of fear about what comes after DACA. President Obama's plan to keep immigrant families together isn't permanent and it's not guaranteed; DACAmented youth have to meet certain criteria, and if granted DACA, they have to reapply every two years. It also requires a background check, which means telling the government where you live, an unsettling step for many in my community. Today, almost 700,000 DREAMers have taken that risk, but find themselves distraught by Republican presidential candidates' immigration proposals -- among them, Marco Rubio's promise to end DACA with or without immigration reform legislation.
We know college is different for undocumented students. Because we do not have social security numbers, we don't qualify for most financial aid. We don't have access to any federal funding for education. So we have to find creative ways to pay school. I did so by becoming a Student Ambassador at Santa Fe Community College. I gave tours to incoming freshman and organized leadership trainings.. The role came with a stipend that paid for my first three years of college. Along the way I was elected the first undocumented Student Body President of Santa Fe Community College in the great state of New Mexico, another responsibility that comes with a stipend.
Mi abuelita is obsessed with my education. Her schooling ended when her father died. She worked hard to see me thrive at the University of New Mexico, where I am now a graduate student with an eye on next year's job market. "Nunca te des por vencida," she tells me. Never give up.
My mother is obsessed with my education, too. Unlike mi abuelita, my mother finished high school. That's as far as she got. "Mi guerrera," she calls me, my warrior. "Logra lo que yo no pude lograr." Achieve what I could not. That's why I went to grad school.
Grad school is different for undocumented students. I'd learned in community college the power of getting involved with my community through student government. As Executive Director of Governmental Affairs Agency the of Associated Undergraduate Student Government, my responsibilities include organizing a massive student advocacy at state legislature in Santa Fe. At our campus community engagement center, I train college and high school students on civic engagement in education, immigration and healthcare policy. Off campus, I mentor high school students, most of whom will be the first generation of their family to go to college, on their path toward higher education at a local latino organization. For me, registering new voters is more than civic engagement. It's a lifestyle, an instinct, a dream that I will answer "Yes" someday, somewhere, when political strangers with clipboards approach me to ask, "Excuse me, ma'am, are you registered to vote?"
Like all of the women in my family, I am an American worker. Working two or three jobs is all I've ever seen them do, and since I was a little girl, it's all they've ever seen me do. We are hardworking American mujeres. Mi abuelita and my mother agree: it's on me to shatter our family's glass ceiling by earning an education and good paying jobs. That's why I applied for DACA. The women in my life taught me a lesson, they taught me to never give up. Nunca te des por vencida. That is why I admire Hillary Clinton's dedication to achieve equal pay, to paid family leave, to quality childcare and to expand the President's deportation protections if Congress doesn't pass immigration reform. I know that Hillary Clinton is going to fight for me and what's best for my family and that is why yo estoy con ella.
Along with my family, DACA is what I'm most-grateful for this Thanksgiving. Employment is different for undocumented students. We can work, just not for pay. Since no one can hire us, many of us intern. I've interned for twelve elected officials and nearly as many non-profit organizations. In the seven months since I applied for DACA, I've interviewed for dozens of jobs, mostly in politics. My experience, I'm told, makes me an obvious hire. Once my DACA is approved, my family's American Dream can really begin.