Last year the Obama administration passed a law allowing some undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits. As part of our occasional series called "What's Your Story?" San Jose resident Ayary Diaz talks about how Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is opening doors to opportunities she says she never thought she'd have. We post it here, since there is an intersection between Diaz' immigration status and her health. The following is a transcript of her first-person radio story.
For 24 years I've been forced to live in the shadows because of a choice that was never mine.
I’m an ‘illegal.’ My parents brought me here from Mexico when I was five, and I have been living -- undocumented -- in the United States ever since. I have two amazing children and a loving fiance but my road has been hard.
When I graduated from high school, I hoped to go to college like my peers. But I needed a Social Security number to apply and, most importantly, to get financial aid. I didn't have one and began to think that I would have the same poor and unproductive life I’d seen my parents live.
But in 2001, a new California law changed things. Undocumented students could apply to college as California residents if they had graduated high school and had been continuously living in the States for several years. So I went to Foothill Community College and then San Francisco State. It took me eight years, working countless hours as a minimum wage server while going to school fulltime to pay for my tuition in cash. But I had my degree, in international business, the first in my family.
It gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment. Education was the way out of poverty. But I couldn't have been further from the truth because now I had a new problem. I’m still undocumented, so most people don’t want to hire me.
After college, dreams deferred indefinitely
Graduating from college was my greatest achievement educationally. But it also has been a source of distress and sorrow. It has been extremely difficult to see my former classmates succeed professionally, while I can’t. Being unable to reach my full potential professionally has driven me to depression. Discontent and failure dominate my thoughts. I often fantasize about what I could have accomplished if I had the same opportunities as my successful classmates.
Almost four years after graduation, my diploma continues to sadly hang and accumulate dust in my room, a constant reminder of how far my determination, perseverance and hard work have come -- but also a bigger reminder of how much further I still need to go.
"Deferred Action" brings opportunity to shine
But now another law has changed my life, known as Deferred Action. It means I can get a Social Security number and a work permit for two years that will allow me to work legally. This is a vindication of everything I've worked hard for. I can finally come out of the shadows, stop hiding who I am, and shine in a country that I've always considered my home. I will no longer be punished for a decision I did not make.
I now have this huge sense of relief and hope. The stress I've been living with for 24 years has lifted because I will now be able to drive without the fear of being stopped and having my vehicle confiscated. My fiance won’t have to be the sole provider for our family. I will be able to live my life to the fullest. I can now proudly display who I am: A qualified professional.
But most importantly I can proudly say, "My name is Ayary Diaz, and it's now my turn to live the American Dream."
Listen to Ayary Diaz' story:
Do you have a health-related story to share? Visit KQED's "What's Your Story?" to learn more.