When I was in college, I worked multiple jobs to achieve some semblance of economic security. But I didn’t feel secure. The money I earned working at a café was barely enough to buy my textbooks, afford my monthly Metrocard and help at home. Although it’s been two years since commencement, and I no longer work at a cafe in Queens, I still wonder if the customer who took his large iced coffee with just skim milk would have ever guessed that I am a playwright. Or if the lady who always asked for her veggie burger with no buns and extra ketchup would have enjoyed knowing that my love for theater came from reading Chekov.
I’m a Dreamer, and it’s young people like me whose future is being decided in Washington this week. And one thing is clear: We need our representatives in Congress to hold strong and only support a budget deal that safeguards our future.
I was 17 when I was accepted to college at UCLA. But instead of a moment of celebration, a harsh reality set in. It was the moment I learned that I was undocumented. At the time, I felt angry at my mother, who had not told me before. Now, I feel sad thinking about all the obstacles she has faced to give me a better future.
In high school, I was part of a young playwrights group. My colleagues were also stellar students with various awards and extracurricular activities, but our background made us different. It showed up in our writing. As they wrote about experimenting with the dynamics of creating worlds where anything goes, I was presenting scenes where there was evidence of my struggle to find myself in the midst of my chaotic, noisy Mexican family and the challenges we’d faced. My writing explored being the first in my family to graduate high school and apply to college. It was the space where I tried to make peace with the recent discovery that I was undocumented. I was often sorry my parents weren’t at the top of the class at schools like Brown or Smith.
But I was also still a writer, just like my peers. I was still one of them. I had the talent and the perseverance just like them to compete. I just lacked papers.
In 2012, my life changed. One day when I was working at the café, my father ran in with a letter. My DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) case had been approved. In his hand he held a plastic card that gave me authorization to work legally! Things were going to change. I would be able to get a better paying job and finish my degree. I would be able to really use my degree.
While millennials are always complaining about getting a job after college, for me and many like me DACA made a huge difference by making me eligible to get a job with my degree. It was a big deal. I was grateful. I went on to do internships in theater that I would have never imagined. I wrote and submitted to competitions, including publishing my pieces.
DACA was not a forever promise, but it changed many lives. It lifted the shadow that had become my home and brought me a sense of finally fitting in.
And then came Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement on September 5th. When the announcement was made that Trump’s administration was acting to end DACA, I looked around my empty apartment. I had graduated with honors from Lehman College, built a home for myself, I had begun my graduate school applications, I had a job that I loved. What now?
The federal budget is set to expire on Friday. If Congress does not pass a clean Dream Act to offer permanent protection to Dreamers like me, our futures and our families will be in jeopardy. Though Democrats do not control Congress or the White House, they have real power in these negotiations—no budget deal can pass without their votes. That’s why they must hold firm and refuse to support any budget extension if it does not include the Dream Act.
Eight hundred thousand DACA recipients, and hundreds of thousands more Dreamers, all of whom have grown up in this country, are counting on our representatives to stand up to Trump’s racism and secure justice for us and our families. We need our legislators to stand strong: No Dream Act, no deal.
Amalia Rojas Enriquez is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny.