My journey to DACA

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I wasn’t born in the United States, but I’ve always felt like I belonged here — except legally, I actually don’t. I grew up playing in the streets of this country, received all my education in its schools and purchased and consumed its products, but I lack what it takes to be considered a true American: legal residency.

I’d been living undocumented for 17 years when on June 15, 2012, former U.S. president Barack Obama’s administration made the groundbreaking decision to deploy the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

My initial reaction was disbelief. I’d lived in the shadows for so long and had had to hide my status from many people — including my close friends. And now, for the first time in my life, I had the right to some form of legalization.

When I first heard Obama’s intention to implement DACA, I was sitting in my night class at Los Angeles Valley College. My older sister had texted me the news, and I was immediately filled with joy, but I was also shocked. I had to step out of class and call her immediately to confirm this miracle.

I didn’t understand how this program was even possible. How legal was it? How permanent was it? How did it change my rights? At the same time, it was thrilling just to think of the possibilities of what this program could mean for my future. Would I finally be able to stand in that DMV line everyone dreaded so much? Could I work in this country legally? Would I be able to travel in and out of the United States?

Nevertheless, part of me remained hesitant and incredulous about the program itself. Growing up, I was well aware of my limitations in life because I was an undocumented immigrant. With each new administration, I hoped that it would be the one to allow me to become legal in a country that I felt united to and loved so much. But for one president to be so bold as to make the move to legalize thousands of individuals just like me? It seemed too good to be true — and in many ways, it turned out to be just that.

While I was reading through the I-821D and I-765 forms, most commonly known as the DACA application, I realized that by submitting my entire life history and personal information, I was placing a target on my back. My entire being had depended on hiding my identity from the world, and now that I had to release my whereabouts to a program that was unstable at its core, I was restless about my future. While many people quickly ran to stand in line for their chance at legalization, I sat back undecided on whether or not to apply.

DACA was the type of hope that we had all been eagerly waiting for, but it also meant that I could potentially place myself and my family in a more vulnerable state if it were to suddenly vanish.

I felt stressed and anxious about making a decision. On the one hand, DACA offered me a glimpse of the thing I had most desired: the possibility to live legally within this country. But if revoked, it would be the route to my biggest fear: deportation. Some days I would wake up certain I would apply, and other days I would be too afraid to solicit a DACA permit. I grew angry because I had waited so long for a program like DACA to come along, and now that it had I couldn’t bring myself to sign up.

On several instances, I fought with my mom because her optimism toward DACA felt hypocritical. She had trained me to live cautiously but now she didn’t understand that if I signed up for DACA and then the program was revoked, I would be in danger of losing it all. I would lose my job that I had worked tirelessly for and that allowed me to pay for my studies. But most importantly, if deported I would lose the opportunity to transfer out to a four-year university to obtain my bachelor’s degree.

After repeatedly weighing the pros and cons of the program, I finally decided to gamble on my future and apply. Nearly one year after DACA was implemented, I submitted my application and was accepted.

Choosing to participate in DACA has been one of the best choices of my life. Although it was not meant to last forever — a fact that I was well aware of since its commencement — it allowed me to access basic necessities, such as a state ID, a driver’s license and legal employment.

In the face of President Donald Trump’s administration, my biggest fear was realized. My protections under DACA are now prone to expire March 5. I anticipate Congress’s decision, ready for the worst but hoping for the best. Although DACA has many faults, it served its purpose in promoting a discussion toward the possibility of permanent legalization.

Until a final decision is reached, my life rests on shaky promises of becoming a legal resident – a resident of the only home I’ve ever known.

Gladys Torres Avalos writes the Monday column on being a DACA recipient. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @gtorres_avalos.