My Undocumented Life: A 'Dreamer' on the Immigrant Experience in the Trump Age
"It is a paralyzing fear not knowing if or when Donald Trump will decide to change the lives of millions working to build a life in the only place they can call home," the author, and former intern at Fox and NBC, writes.
The author, a DACA permit holder, participated in a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program (sponsored by THR) for Los Angeles-area students pursuing careers in the entertainment industry. Asking to have her identity withheld for fear of repercussions against her undocumented parents, the onetime mentee, who has since been an intern at Fox and NBC, shares her story here.
It’s easy to judge people in a situation that you have never faced and easy to form an opinion on an issue when it does not directly affect you or your family. On the subject of undocumented immigrants, I constantly hear things like: “Why don’t they work hard in their own country?” “Why don’t they just wait in line to come here legally like everyone else?” “Why support them when millions of Americans are unable to find work?”
When I was 8, my parents and I came to this country to escape poverty in Mexico and pursue the American dream. If entering the U.S. legally was a possibility, we would’ve done so without hesitation. No one would choose to spend years hiding in the shadows, living never knowing what tomorrow holds.
Despite common misconceptions, entering the country legally is next to impossible. There are three main ways to get an immigrant visa: through family, employment, or the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (the visa lottery). My family, like many out there, had no relatives in the U.S. who could sponsor us. My parents, who had started working young and only had a middle school education, did not qualify under the employment clause because they were not "aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors, researchers, or members of professions holding an advanced degree.” And the visa lottery was out of the question: Residents of Mexico are not eligible for the program due to the high volume of immigration from the country.
So, instead, after seeing there was no legal route, my parents risked their lives crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. Settling in Los Angeles, they started working tirelessly. They are the hardest-working people I know: My mother wakes up at 3:30 a.m. for work five days a week, and in her two days off she works cleaning people’s houses; my father also toils around the clock to give my brother (born in the USA) and I what we need. My parents and I pay taxes, we contribute funds to unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, retirement, disability, and survivor benefits — even though our undocumented status means we can’t claim any of these benefits.
In 2012, as I was going into my junior year of high school, Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many undocumented students I knew were hesitant to apply because they had to submit their addresses, among other personal information, to the U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services, making themselves immediate targets. For me, the rewards outweighed the risks. I applied and became a so-called “Dreamer.” As an undergraduate student at Loyola Marymount today, I have benefited greatly from my DACA work permit, getting internships (including two at major networks) and other jobs to improve my career prospects and advance my dream of becoming an entertainment executive.
After receiving my DACA status, I never truly experienced the fear of being undocumented. That changed election night. Ever since I have been shaking with fear because Trump’s campaign promises to revoke DACA. It is a paralyzing fear not knowing if or when Donald Trump will decide to change the lives of millions working to build a life in the only place they can call home. Ever since I arrived in the U.S. at 8, I have been aware of my legal status in this country, and yet I had never thought of myself as different because of what side of the border I was born on — until now.
I have formed a life here; this country is all I know. It’s because of my experiences here that I can envision one day being the head of a television studio and creating meaningful content that gives those who’ve lived in the shadows like myself a voice.