I’m a dreamer.
My status as an undocumented DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient always feels a bit more relevant during election years. It has become more pronounced now that I am 19 years old; people who do not know about my status expect me to vote.
I was born in Mexico and came to the United States with my mother before I was 2 years old. I was as fluent in English as any other 5-year-old by the time I started school. I have lived in this country my whole life, and when I was 16, I obtained my DACA status. I never really felt any different from my peers until my senior year of high school when the stress of my DACA renewal process — as well as the constant talk of voting and college applications — weighed especially heavy on my mind.
Dreamers, as DACA recipients are sometimes called, are required to renew their status every two years. But we are advised to start the process at least five months in advance to protect that status, so it’s really more like every 18 months. When I first went through the application process, a lawyer gave my mom a bilingual card explaining that she knew her rights, just in case she was stopped by law enforcement.
Colorado is the only place I’ve ever considered a home, and I cannot imagine a life for myself in Mexico. DACA has allowed me to have a driver’s license, a job, a Social Security number and deferred action from deportation for two years at a time. Of course, this status has put me in a position of more privilege than many undocumented immigrants; still, my DACA status does not allow me to do many things.
Under DACA, I cannot vote.
I have heard so many claims about the importance of voting repeated over and over, but one of them always sticks out to me: “Don’t complain if you’re not voting.”
I understand the sentiment behind this idea, and I acknowledge its validity ... to a certain extent. This may be applicable to people who complain without using their ability to vote as a way to participate in effecting change.
But what about those of us who do not have the privilege?
The idea that if you didn’t vote you shouldn’t complain seemed ridiculous to my high school group of friends back when we were all under the legal voting age of 18. It seems just as ridiculous to me now. I may not be able to vote, but I still see the impacts of these elections. I am still affected. I still have to live with whatever the outcome is.
Perhaps I should focus on the fact that I even get to be here to see whatever the outcome is.
Nonetheless, my DACA status has not made me complacent about the way things are. I still care. I may not be allowed to cast a ballot, but it would be ignorant to act like voting is the only way to effect change.
DACA recipients across the country have participated in activism in every sense. Our protests, petitions and education programs have allowed America’s DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants to have a voice in the system. We are changing things for the better within our communities and our country.
Yet, not all undocumented immigrants are interested in activism. The fear of deportation and racism is enough to silence the voices of a large part of this community. Many people in this situation are content trading complacency for some sense of stability in their lives during a tumultuous time for immigrant rights.
My community has been discouraged repeatedly. I cannot say I haven’t felt that several times. It’s hard to forget that whatever stability DACA has granted me is only mine for two years at a time. It’s hard to push myself to work hard for a life I could lose so easily. Sometimes it’s hard to convince myself that the loss isn’t inevitable. It’s hard to convince myself that I need to work hard and try for myself just in case the loss never happens.
But still, I do.
Now, in 2020, I ask you to vote. For all of our activism, one thing we dreamers can’t do is cast our ballots. That is how to give people like me a voice.