This Election Day I watched in disbelief as the candidate who I thought had no chance clinched the presidency of the United States. I was in China completing my second master’s degree as a Schwarzman Scholar when the polls closed. As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, tears ran down my face as I thought about what the results could mean for my family and me.
Donald Trump vowed to rescind DACA on day one. I took his word and returned to the United States before his inauguration. I had been paroled six times into the United States, entering through five different cities. My level of anxiety was higher this time because of the vitriolic rhetoric directed at “illegal” immigrants like me during the presidential campaign. My heart raced as the customs officers summoned me for questioning. That moment I understood that I had grown complacent as the inspection process became routine to me.
DACA brought stability to young lives marked by uncertainty, emancipating over 750,000 dreamers like me from the threat of deportation and allowing us to gain legal employment. For many of us, DACA also became the push we needed to rise above the limitations imposed by our immigration and socio-economic status to accomplish extraordinary things. Propelled by curiosity and a desire to improve myself, I sought a place in academic programs that took me to ten different countries in four continents in the past three years. I have visited iconic sites like the Great Wall Of China, the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia, and Big Ben in London.
I have walked on the same grounds as Aristotle in The Acropolis of Athens, the birthplace of democracy. I basked in the grandeur of the Forbidden City of China, a place rarely seen by people for four hundred years. I walked the same cobble streets as Isaac Newton once did, and I enjoyed three-course meals draped in traditional college robes inside centuries-old buildings as a student at the University of Cambridge. As I traveled, I often thought about the improbability of my position. I felt the weight of my privilege when I thought about the thousands of students who applied for these opportunities and of the many more who did not. Yet, here I was.
Reentry into the United States was never guaranteed. I knew I was taking an enormous risk every time I boarded an outbound flight. However, the thought of the impact I would be able to have on the lives of those less privileged empowered with the experiences, knowledge, and relationships I would gain abroad filled my spirit with courage.
It is now clear that we have entered a new political environment. President Trump’s executive orders are already taking a toll on immigrant and refugee families. Could DACA be his next target? Forget the detrimental economic impact on the nation if DACA is repealed. The intangible impact of repeal is equally as important. We are no longer children. We are young adults with the capacity and the desire to positively contribute. Without work authorization, what are we to do? Continue accumulating college degrees in hopes of one day being able to put them to use? President Trump and the congressional Republican leadership must cease mercilessly playing with our futures.
Being selected a Schwarzman Scholar was the culmination of a lifetime of academic preparation and persistence in the face of linguistic, financial, and legal challenges. Now I am confronted with the choice of continuing my hard-earned education in China or risk losing my life in the United States. As frustrating as this situation is, it is not unique for me. Like other undocumented students, I have had to take detours on my path to realizing my dreams. Nothing has been easy or given to me. This is no different. The familiarity of this situation does not make it any less frustrating. With or without DACA, we must not desist demanding a permanent place in this country. The alternative is simply inconceivable.
The recent protests in support of refugees and immigrant families have strengthened my conviction that, despite the actions of the president, the majority of Americans believe that we belong. The fight for American’s soul is only beginning. For my undocumented friends still in the shadows, now it is not the time to hide. We must do our part to support those at the vanguard of this struggle by organizing ourselves and giving others the strength to do the same through the power of our stories.