By Genry A.
Imagine you're 22, a recent college grad, unsure about your adult future, hanging on to the job that you were grateful enough just to get—oh, and you're also trying to maintain your existence as an undocumented person, somewhere between "deportable" and "respected community member."
If it doesn't make sense to you how an undocumented person graduated from college, then immigration law will make even less sense. I'm no law expert, but I've had to bear the brunt of people's curiosity more times than I can count. FAQ: "So how did you go to college if…?" "Have you been back?" "How are you illegal if you have no accent?" "Why don't you just get citizenship?" Oh, how many times I've had to bite my tongue.
I remember my heart beating fast and adrenaline widening my eyes the day DACA was announced. It wasn't until the following year that my application was ready to be submitted. Literally any paper document of my life was included in the application package: my standardized test scores from grade school, some random award for a writing competition, vaccination records, all the playbills that I appeared in, articles about my band, the plane ticket from Moscow to Chicago, copy of my expired visa (entered legally, they love that), letters of recommendation, and of course the court documents from a teenage mishap. Is this enough? I've never tried to convince someone so hard that I am more than decent, more than deserving of the few important privileges that DACA offered.
The attorney helping me at the time said "the more the better," and that "you can't be too careful, your application review could be at the whim of the immigration officer's mood." Great, I thought, let's hope they like Russian immigrant thespians.
After months of waiting, my application was finally accepted. Finally, I could have something that can't be technically called "legal status" and pay to renew it every two years! Finally, I could pay to apply to visit my father and grandmothers as long as I had an itinerary and could prove humanitarian, economic, or educational grounds for the visit abroad! And you know what, as thrilled as I was to get my work permit, social security number, and driver's license, I celebrated with a sense of dissatisfaction.
DACA is not enough. I deserve more, I am not second-class; I am a priority. I am not a piece in a political board game. I've done more for this country than most citizens, but I don't measure merit with achievements. Being human is enough.
But nonetheless, I continued life with DACA. I went to grad school, was employed by the state as an educator, was able to have insurance for a short time, and got a part time gig at a consulting firm working in my 'field' for the first time. I even married my love and moved across the country. Finally, I felt a little more like my peers than I did four years prior.
It kind of makes you think about "citizenship" and its precarious privileges, don't it? DACA, and being an undocumented adult in general, makes the precariousness of these privileges (ID, SSN, work permit, etc.) very obvious to me. It's heightened my awareness of the arbitrary qualifications for the benefits of citizenship. One day granted, another taken away. One person born on this side of the line is handed all of them, the other hopes to find just a couple.
I should just be grateful for what is given, right? "It was fun while it lasted" type shit. Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of privileges outside of DACA: being white, male, growing up sort of upper middle class (at least before a family member was detained), being part of a network of other very privileged and generous people. I've lived better than most citizens, but does that mean I should sit and count my blessings? I deserve more. All immigrants deserve more. These are human lives. Immigrant rights are human rights. Human rights aren't something anyone should wait for or cross their fingers for. They're not little trophies for immigrants to collect.
DACA might be on its way out, but I'd like to think that we are in the midst of a transitional time, rather than an era of doom. Shedding old skin is hard, damaging. The struggle isn't over, but immigrants and their allies will prevail.