My parents tried to shelter me from the realities of the world in order to protect me from certain hard truths. But when I grew up to find out about my family’s undocumented status, it didn’t protect me from the reality that I wouldn’t have the same opportunities as my friends and classmates.
Like all immigrants, DREAMers– undocumented immigrants who came here as children and have had no way to adjust their status – can attest to the struggle of assimilation into the American culture. And the fears and uncertainties around being undocumented compounds that struggle. But once I turned 16, everything changed thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
All of the nearly 700,000 DREAMers with DACA have their own unique story. In my case, as a Nigerian immigrant, I am a reminder that DREAMers represent a diverse group of countries of origin around the world. Yet my story, and every one of the other 700,000 DACA recipients’, also highlights a shared reality: though DACA is a life-changing program that has strengthened our futures and our country, a temporary status isn’t the goal or ultimate solution for us.
Despite the Trump administration’s recent loss before the Supreme Court on DACA, they are again threatening to end the program while shortening DACA from a two year status to one year status for current recipients and refusing to accept new applications. Our futures as DREAMers in a country we call home, shouldn’t rest on the whims of a single person. Instead, a permanent legislative fix for DREAMers — a popular and overdue idea that would provide certainty to our lives as well as to our families, campuses, and workplaces across America — should finally be passed.
“While grateful for DACA, I’ve always known this temporary status was just a minute reflection of the things I could do if I had the full privileges of U.S citizenship.”
At the age of four, I moved with my family from Nigeria to Maryland on a temporary visa. But like many families who have migrated here for generations, my parents were motivated to stay to pursue a better life and better future for their children.
My childhood was rough. I grew up being bullied in school because of my African accent and name, and then when I went home, I had to deal with the stress of my parents constantly working to make ends meet through their menial jobs.
I still recall my father’s excited words in November 2014: “There is something that Obama started that you can apply for and be able to work.” At the time, I couldn’t fully grasp what DACA was, but if it meant that I could work, it meant that I could make money and finally be able to alleviate my parents’ burdens. In 2015 when I got DACA, I started working and learning how to drive. I was finally able to simply start doing things that I was previously barred from doing.
While grateful for DACA, I’ve always known this temporary status was just a minute reflection of the things I could do if I had the full privileges of U.S citizenship. What I really aspire to do is fully participate in the country that’s been my home for majority of my life. I want to plan out my life and my future with more certainty than in two-year increments; and to travel back to Nigeria to see my family again after 17 long years without fear of not being able to return to my home, America.
Despite my DACA status and academic achievements, like graduating from high school as my class valedictorian, there were still many obstacles, such as the fact that DACA recipients are barred from receiving federal financial aid. Fortunately, thanks to organizations like TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college access and success program for immigrant youth, thousands of DREAMers like me can now attend and afford college.
Today, more than 200,000 fellow DACA recipients are working in frontline positions to help mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak. We’re becoming the doctors, teachers, and policymakers that our parents dreamed of us becoming, who are working to fight and care for our communities.
As a student who serves as president of the Student Government Council at Trinity Washington University, I plan on joining them one day as I graduate in the fall to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy.
So there is reason to have hope that the long journey for DREAMers’ full participation in American life is at hand: the first attempt to pass the Dream Act was way back in 2001; DACA was announced in 2012; and the recent Supreme Court ruling blocking Trump’s attempt to end DACA reflected not only the majority of the Court, but the overwhelming desires of the American people who know Dreamers as their friends, classmates, and co-workers.
Our home is here and it’s time we finally passed legislation that confirms that truth.
This story about DACA recipients was was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter.
Ewaoluwa Ogundana is a DACA recipient and senior at Trinity Washington University, where she serves as President of the Student Government Council.