I was five and a half years old when I came to this country from Peru. Accompanying me were my father, mother, and sister. Getting on the plane, I did not know that words like “undocumented” and “dreams” would play such a major role in my young adult life. As early as elementary school, I embraced the United States and grasped the notion of what it meant to be an American, despite the initial barriers posed by the language and culture. With hard work and determination, I graduated elementary school and high school with a great reputation among my peers and teachers. On the outside, I appeared to be just another teenager living day by day. On the inside, however, I was consumed with the worries only known to someone who is undocumented. With that label comes plenty of baggage.
Sabrozo at age 3 in Peru, circa 1995.
For me, being undocumented almost meant living a secret life, sacrificing much and struggling to maintain the appearance of a normal teenager. I can’t drive, I can’t get financial aid, I can’t get a job, I can’t apply to a number of internships…I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Almost fourteen years later, I still cannot find one word that truly encompasses and reflects the turbulent range of emotions—anger, fear, frustration—I have felt at one point or another as a result of my immigration status. However, I knew that one day I would be able to say, “I can.” To my great joy, that day has come.
Yesterday, the federal government launched a new program that will allow young undocumented immigrants like me to live and work in the US, offering an estimated 1.7 million people something a little closer to a normal life. The start of the program, call Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), left me with mixed feelings and newfound emotions. Part of me feels that everything happening is too good to be true, the other part feels that this measure was long overdue. While many Dreamers around the country are rejoicing, I know that there are many looking at the road ahead, seeing this as a mere stepping-stone toward the recognition we deserve. This program is not permanent and does not provide a path to citizenship; for that, Congress will need to pass the DREAM Act.
As for me, I find myself in between. I woke up yesterday and humbly said a little prayer of thanks, but I’m still worried about how this program might be handled by the federal government. One very scary fact is that, as undocumented immigrants, we don’t have the right to an appeal if our application is denied. Any information we’ve provided can be used against us. That’s a legitimate worry.
I personally plan to look over the application thoroughly and make sure I truly understand what is asked and required. If that means hiring a lawyer, then by all means I will do this, although I’m already struggling to put together college tuition for the coming academic year. Yesterday was the start of the program, not the deadline. While I’d like the security of knowing I won’t be deported, as well as the ability to earn money for my education, I feel it’s worth waiting a little longer to make sure that I fill everything out the right way.
Sabrozo after graduating from Nassau Community College with an associate’s degree.
Something I stress to those applying, as well as to those individuals who are assessing them, is to bear in mind that everyone has a unique case. It is important that each person determine whether or not the application is appropriate for them depending on their own previous experiences with the law and immigration.
All precautions aside, I can’t say I’m not thrilled. After all the hard work and sacrifice, this is definitely a nice change of direction. My immigration status is what has always pushed me to strive against the odds, pushed me to dream big and set high objectives. What I thought would put the brakes on my future is actually fueling my growth. I’ve always told myself that when the doors of opportunity opened, I would be ready. Well, the doors are opening and I’m more than ready to set new goals and dream bigger dreams. For the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I am looking forward to what my future holds.
Wendolyne Sabrozo is a student at Sarah Lawrence College, where she studies English. She resides in Elmont.
Feature image from Newsday.