No longer deferred from travel

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In August 2013, I was thrilled to arrive home and find a white envelope from the Department of Motor Vehicles with my name on it. Even before I opened it, I knew that this envelope contained a little bit of freedom.

Inside was my first California state identification. For nearly 23 years, I didn’t qualify for a state ID because I was undocumented. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, changed this reality.

My sister, who is also a DACA recipient, received the same envelope only a few days later. The two of us had always shared the strong desire to travel. Naturally, when we received our first California IDs, the first thing we did was research to confirm that they could be used for traveling.

And it was true — as DACA recipients, we could travel within the United States using our state-issued identifications.

Yet, we were still a little reluctant to believe that the information we had found was accurate because we were accustomed to being limited. After much hesitation, we decided to book a vacation to Kauai to test this new reality.

When we arrived at LAX for our flight, the whole scenario felt surreal. Both my sister and I had been to LAX in the past, but it was always to pick up or drop off a friend or family member. This time, we knew it was different. We weren’t going to the airport for a matter of minutes — we were there to travel ourselves.

Thanks to DACA, now it was our turn.

But when I arrived at the airport, I felt stressed and anxious. Part of me still felt insecure about my ability to travel. When my sister and I checked ourselves in at the kiosks, I expected to run into issues finding our reservation — but no issues came up.

After our boarding passes were printed, I held mine in my hand, reviewing it over and over, unable to believe that it belonged to me even though my name was clearly printed on it in black ink.

As we got closer to the front of the line to go through security, the muscles in my stomach knotted up tighter. I wondered what they would ask me or if they would even let me through at all.

I prepared myself for the officers to question me about my legal status. I ran through multiple scenarios in my head. When my turn came, I walked up to the TSA officer, faking confidence, even though on the inside I was close to falling apart.

I handed the officer my documents, smiling as she stared from my ID to my face and back again. This moment felt like an eternity. But finally, she waved me through.

My mind was still trying to catch up with reality. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe and keep a calm face. It felt like I was committing a crime even though everything said that, legally, I was allowed to be there.

After gathering our belongings from TSA, my sister and I met up. We glanced at each other and smiled, but we didn’t dare speak. I couldn’t believe that I was standing on this side of the security screening. I was so used to waving goodbye to others from the other side that I had never stopped to imagine what this side of the airport looked like.

My sister and I sat in the gate area, looking out the window to the plane that we were set to board shortly. But even then, I stopped myself from celebrating. My mind kept telling me that someone could still appear at any moment to prohibit us from boarding that plane.

Most of the time that we sat in the waiting area, my sister and I just made small talk about anything that didn’t concern our trip. There was an unspoken understanding between us that if we discussed our trip before actually boarding that plane, we would jinx it all.

Boarding time came, and I stepped onto the aircraft. Once my feet were planted safely inside, the idea of being able to travel finally became real.

As the plane ascended into the sky, I felt the chains around me coming undone. I had spent years with my head in the clouds dreaming about a future of travelling — and now, thanks to DACA, I was actually in the clouds seeing them for the first time.

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.