For as long as I can remember, I knew that my parents were undocumented. Growing up in New York City, so many of the people around me were undocumented I didn’t really know what it meant.
But, as I got older, I started to figure it out. My parents would tell my siblings that we wouldn’t be able to fly to see our cousins in Florida or even take a bus to another state because they didn’t have a state-issued ID. I have always feared my parents getting stopped by the authorities and then getting deported. While on the train on my way to school throughout middle and high school, I would come up with contingency plans in case my parents got deported. I would ask myself: Who could I turn to for help with my younger siblings? What would I do if I wasn’t in the city?
When I left for Scripps College in August all the way in California (I was born and raised in NYC), my parents couldn’t even accompany me into the airport. My mom was terrified of going into the terminal for fear that someone would ask her for documentation. I went alone, four days before school started for the First Generation at Scripps program. It is a program that helps acclimate incoming freshmen who are the first in their family to attend college. It is comprised of a pre-orientation, where we learned about all the key administrative offices at school, and teaches students how to fend for themselves. After the program, real orientation began. When my roommates arrived with their parents in our triple, it was understandably awkward.
I have had to navigate going to college alone, since my parents haven’t been in the position to be there for me, at least physically. I couldn’t afford to fly home for both fall break and Thanksgiving, but I couldn’t tell my parents that I was devastated that I couldn’t see them. Instead I had to act like it was no big deal and that I was having a great time across the country, even though I was super homesick. Still, my parents have done the best they could, considering the circumstances. They were always on the phone with me, as I pulled all-nighters during finals week, encouraging me to do my best.
In November, when I heard President Obama issue an executive order that would help about 5 million undocumented people living in the United States come out of the shadows, I felt elated but I didn’t quite know how it would affect my family. I watched the announcement with friends that night, and a slew of thoughts went through my head as I heard what he was saying. My first thought was about the other people who wouldn’t benefit from the executive order because of the qualifications. However, my mentor called me later that night and told me what the Immigration Accountability Executive Action would mean for my family — my parents would be able to get Social Security numbers to get ID. I started to cry, and my mind raced with thoughts of what we would be able to do.
My parents came to the United States from Mexico in the early ’90s and met at church. My mom is the oldest of 11 while my dad is the oldest male in a family of six. Both of my parents came from poor families. To get a visa to come to the United States from Mexico you have to have an education, money, and land. My parents had none of those: They had limited education (my dad reached the seventh grade and my mom her freshman year of high school), no money, and no land, therefore they never had the opportunity to come here legally.
If my parents apply for President Obama’s program, they will be able to come to visit me at school and eventually come to my graduation. It will alleviate my fears of them being deported, since they will have temporary protection from that. My mom will be able to see her siblings who live in North Carolina and Florida. The last time she saw them was a decade ago.
With a temporary social security number and work permit, they will be able to get better jobs or even go back to school. My mom currently works as a housekeeper and volunteers at church. My dad will hopefully be able to get a license to sell fruits and vegetables around the city.
Still, even with the glimmer of hope from the executive order, it won’t be so easy to fix their situation. It will take time for them to save to pay the application fee, which many estimate will be around $500 per application. My parents barely make enough to survive.
I am lucky to have received a lot of financial aid. At school, I’m one of the students with the highest financial need. I have had to reduce my meal plan for my next semester to help pay for tuition. I work to help cover the bills in our one bedroom apartment while my parents pay the rent. How are my parents going to save enough money to pay for two applications? It might mean working a third job while in college so that my parents can focus on saving for the applications. I want them to apply as soon as possible to reduce the chances of them being able to get deported.
Since immigration is such a touchy topic, there has been a lot of criticism against IAEA, even a lawsuit. Some say that it is amnesty, it will increase welfare, undocumented people are getting a free ride, and that they won’t have to pay taxes.
These claims anger me because they are misinformed and basically thinly veiled prejudice. Recipients of the work permits will have to pay taxes, and we won’t be getting a free ride.
Still, I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity — we are one of the lucky families who is eligible to benefit from this executive order. In 2015, I hope my parents won’t fear walking by a police station or going through security at the airport anymore. I hope my mom will be able to reunite with her loved ones. And no more nightmares for me and my siblings of my parents being taken away!