Editor's Note: "Maria" is an active member of the Bay Area arts community who, as a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, came out as undocumented in 2012. The administration's declaration this week to rescind the program puts her future in jeopardy, and guides our choice to protect her identity.
Dear President Trump,
Do you know what it's like to live in the shadows?
I do. I completed kindergarten through high school in California. I wasn’t born in America, but I’ve lived here for more than 23 years. It’s the only home I’ve ever known.
My mother and I immigrated to the United States from Mexico when I was four years old. All I know about Mexico are the few stories my mother shared — of working as a maid, or a receptionist, or selling handmade hair bows on the street to support us. She could barely make ends meet, and needed to leave Mexico to escape an unhealthy relationship with my father.
Growing up, I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone I wasn’t born in the United States because I was scared of being deported. It was difficult going to high school knowing that even if I got good grades and went to college, I'd be unlikely to get a decent job once my employer asked me to provide proof of employment eligibility.
I had to skip out-of-state class field trips, because flying on an airplane means having to show ID and, for me, the possibility of being shipped back to Mexico and never seeing my family again. I couldn’t get a drivers license when I was 16 like the rest of my classmates. I rode my bike as a main form of transportation until 2012, when I applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
This same program that 800,000 other immigrant youth signed up for allowed me to receive a state ID, a drivers license and a work permit. I was able to come out of the shadows and meet others in my situation. I realized I was not alone. I stopped being scared of getting shipped off to Mexico where I wouldn’t understand a copy of a local newspaper because I never learned how to read or write in Spanish.
One of your election promises was to end DACA as soon as you came into office — but then shortly after you won the election, you said people like me could “rest easy” because you were going after criminals.
Does that mean you’ve labeled me a criminal after all? Should I have told my mother to leave me in Mexico to fend for myself at the age of four, or to stay with a man who never cared for us?
I willingly completed the DACA application because it was the only way for me to obtain a legal presence in the United States. The process was long and it took me months to track down the necessary documents to apply. I had to get copies of my school records, print out five years' worth of bank account statements, and track down a vaccine record to show proof that I’d entered the United States as a minor. I had to put my life on paper for USCIS to conduct a background check and determine if I posed a national threat. I was fingerprinted, I answered dozens of questions, and I had to figure out how to write, in just a half-page of space, why I deserved the right to work. I reapplied twice and paid nearly $500 for each two-year work permit.
Though I’ve lived here my whole life, the program did not make me a citizen or classify me as one. I still can’t vote, travel outside of the U.S. or apply for federal aid for college, yet the program has given me comfort. It's allowed me to pursue my dreams of attending college, and earn a career in the arts that I’m proud of. But now that comfort is gone.
Have you ever had to look someone you love in the eye and then tell them everything is going to be OK when you have a sinking feeling in your heart that it’s not?
I have. I had to put on a strong face for my mother as I felt my heart racing with fear after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced your decision to end the DACA program on Tuesday. I had to hide my shaking hands from her as I promised her I would be fine. Act like my dreams weren’t crushed into a million pieces. I told her I might still have two years of protection from deportation because I’d recently sent off my renewal application, even though I wasn’t sure if it would be honored.
You publicly stated “We love the DREAMers.” Is love making someone else deliver the blow of your decision?
The legal eviction notice in California is 30 days — is love giving a six-month notice? Does that seem like the right amount of time to evict 800,000 immigrant youth out of the country?
My story is just one of many. I am one of thousands of people registered in databases somewhere in the United States who now stand to be deported and ripped from our homes.
You passed our fate along to Congress. I don’t have a say in what is going to happen, but technically you still do. So I urge to question your actions one more time, and ask: is this what love is?