By Margarita Salas Crespo
My name is Margarita and I am your average first-generation college student who has faced a few bumps in the road. Nonetheless, I am proud to say that I am a student here at the University of Nevada, Reno making my dreams come true.
There is just one minor detail, though: I am an undocumented immigrant. My parents brought me to the U.S. when I was only 10 years old and since then, I’ve called Nevada my home.
When the subject of illegal immigration is brought up to me people often ask, “Why don’t you just get a visa and do it the right way like everyone else?” What some don’t understand is that getting a visa isn’t easy; my parents unsuccessfully applied three times and were rejected because of our lack of wealth and property ownership. After enduring months of frustrating paperwork that yielded few results, my parents made the difficult decision of coming to the U.S. unlawfully in search of the American dream.
There are many other students like myself who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully when they were children and had no say in the move. We often identify ourselves as DREAMers (or Sonadores) after the failed federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.
Recently, after much effort from youth leaders nationwide, we were granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Although DACA alleviated the situation of thousands of students, it is not a permanent solution and it does not offer citizenship or guarantees of in-state tuition or financial aid. DACA only offers a two-year hold on deportation and a work permit for those who qualify.
Another benefit of DACA is Advance Parole. A successful application provides one with authorization to travel out of the country for educational, humanitarian or work purposes. However, Advance Parole comes with its risks; it does not guarantee that you will be let back into the country. The officer you present the document to upon return must parole you into the country.
Applying for both DACA and Advance Parole can be a difficult process, therefore in most cases, it is recommended that you speak to a lawyer. There are also many nonprofit organizations that work together with the community by providing the necessary tools and information. Mi Familia Vota—a mostly volunteer run organization, for example, offers workshops for DACA applications and renewals.
This past week, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico City with an Advance Parole. I traveled with 41 other DREAMers from all over the U.S. for a cultural and educational program organized by the Mexican Embassy and Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In my case, it had been 15 years since I left my home country while others hadn’t stepped foot in Mexico in over two decades. We all experienced a roller coaster of emotions upon arrival.
Many got to see their families for the first time in decades while others came to discover that many of their loved ones had passed without having had the opportunity to say goodbye.
The nationally selected group of DREAMers that participated in this first-ever organized visit to Mexico consisted of leaders being recognized for advocating for the rights of their families and communities. I was very fortunate and honored to have been chosen to travel to Mexico to engage in conversations about the importance of the bi-national relationship between Mexico and the U.S.
While in Mexico, we engaged in discussions with officials from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Mexican government. We expressed concerns about the identity crises that DREAMers like myself constantly face. We live in a country that rejects us and yet we call it home. We often feel that “no somos ni de aqui ni de aya” (we are not from here nor there).
When people naturally want a better life for themselves and their families, immigration often comes at a high price—one that propels us between two nations, two borderlands and two identities. While we try to integrate into the nation that is housing us, we often face rejection, discrimination, and harsh treatment. Let us not forget that this country was established by different waves of immigrants. Most of us either descend from immigrants or are immigrants ourselves.
After the trip, many of us came to the realization that we have two homes, possibly two identities, and that we are from here and from there, “somos de aqui y de aya.” We left our home country years ago, but its customs still live within us. We have adopted our new home’s way of life, making both our cultures work together as one.
I have a commitment to both of my identities. I must honor the homeland that gave me birth by protecting the integrity of its culture while also acknowledging that my new home, the U.S., has given me the opportunity to be who I am today. I am the result of two nations, two cultures and two identities.
Despite our cultural differences, we are all from one race: the human race. I ask you to gain a greater sensitivity to the fact that we are all loyal residents, whether documented or not, of this beautiful nation we call home. And no one, arguably with the exception of Native Americans, should have the exclusive right to lay claim to this land to subsequently justify the displacement of hardworking and patriotic individuals from their home.
Margarita Salas Crespo studies anthropology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.