Although I recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in political science, I am unable to use my degree to work because I am undocumented. Not only do I face a difficult time in finding ways to work, I also faced constant fear of deportation — until President Barack Obama made an announcement last Friday to stop deportation and provide work permits to a select group of DREAMers who meet requirements under a new immigration policy.
This historic announcement would not have been possible without the courageous DREAMers who stood up and shared their stories, held events and rallies, contacted elected officials and led hunger strikes and civil disobedience actions despite risking deportation. After many years of collaborative efforts to demand justice and equality, the federal government finally made a move to provide very limited and temporary relief for many undocumented young people in this country.
For many years, I have lived in fear of deportation and permanently leaving the country I call home. The fear of being separated from my friends, my family and my community; the fear of not being accepted within my own community; the fear of contacting the police in a time of need and the fear of losing my hope and dreams after graduating from college. Today, I feel liberated from these fears. Because of this announcement, I can now better focus on preparing for my master’s degree program, provide for my family and continue to advocate for the federal DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform.
Prior to June 15, 2012, I was unable to get a job, apply for internships or qualify for financial aid. Thus, I had to work more than 30 hours of week at a Japanese restaurant, mopping floors and washing dishes, and get paid below minimum wage under the table while I commuted to school and enrolled as a full-time student at Laney College in Oakland. Sometimes I had to stay up all night to apply for limited scholarship opportunities to meet the deadlines. Today, I feel free from these obstacles. Because of this announcement, I will have open doors to new opportunities to use my degree to work and contribute back to society. Not only will I have the chance to work to support my schoolwork, but also I have the capacity to support my family. As one of my fellow DREAMers said, “I feel I am normal again.”
With this announcement, approximately 800,000 young peoples’ dreams are now protected, at least temporarily.This is huge victory for the undocumented community, but the fight is not over. There are thousands of other young DREAMers who are not eligible to apply for deferred action or work permits because of strict requirements under the policy change. For example, DREAMers who are over 30 years old cannot qualify to receive deferred action or work permits. Moving forward, we must stay involved and work with the Obama administration to include all DREAMers, because they also have the right to DREAM.
Finally, we must continue to fight for the federal DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform because this policy is only a temporary solution. Now, more than ever, we have strength, conviction and power in our hands to organize, mobilize and take collective action to solve our broken immigration system. Soon, we will fulfill all 11.5 million dreams.
Ju Hong served as an ASUC Senator for the 2011-12 school year.
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