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My family immigrated to the United States when I was just 10 years old in order to seek medical treatment for my older sister. She had undergone brain surgery in India and the after effects of radiation were steadily worsening. She received treatment at a hospital in Long Island and then later on at Boston Children's Hospital. During the course of her treatment our lawyer misfiled our petition for visas, resulting in a denial and an order to leave the country within 30 days. My sisters doctors advised us that any interruption in her treatment would be extremely detrimental to her well-being, because of which my father decided to overstay, a decision that led to my sister still being alive and with us today, 13 years longer than what was expected at the time.
Legal status and immigration reform was something I was unconcerned with for many years, until I entered high school. My peers were excited about getting their drivers licenses or applying for jobs, and I was unsure why I could not do the same. After speaking to my parents, I was told that we did not have legal immigration status. Even though I understood why we overstayed, I felt disheartened and perplexed. I was most adversely affected during the conclusion of my senior year while I was applying for scholarships and looking into colleges. I was ineligible for many scholarships, financial aid, and loans due to lack of immigration status. I had always been a determined child, and was an even more determined adolescent. I maintained an almost perfect GPA throughout my entire high school career, earning many awards, and graduating as the Salutatorian from the class of 2008. I made sure I was a well-rounded student; in addition to excelling in academics, I held leadership positions in student organizations and consistently immersed myself in volunteer work and fundraisers. I had a passion for helping people and an intense drive to succeed.
After graduation, when future prospects seemed bleak, I felt discouraged. The financial burden of college seemed too heavy to bear, especially without being able to apply for loans or grants. Despite that, my father encouraged me to apply to the College of Staten Island; while it was not the Ivy League school I always wanted to attend, it would allow me to work towards my goals.
While searching for scholarships to help pay for college, I stumbled upon the New York Immigration Coalition Dream Fellowship. While I was overjoyed at my acceptance and the $2000 scholarship that accompanied it, I had no idea how drastically it would change my life. As part of the fellowship program, I was assigned as an intern to a local immigrant center in Staten Island, El Centro del Inmigrante.
When I began my internship experience, I had no experience in social activism. Due to the fear of exposure and lack of knowledge I was never involved in the immigration reform movement before. Almost immediately after I began my internship, I was asked to share my story with others in similar predicaments, and while it was difficult to finally be open about a topic that I had been quiet about for so long, it was also a much-needed release from being in the shadows of fear and feeling alone. I began to attend strategy meetings, events, and rallies where I met more people like me, and truly began to understand what the fight for immigration reform entailed.
Through my fellowship I grew tremendously as a person and I was eager to share my growth with others. Together with my host site, El Centro del Inmigrante, we started the Staten Island Dream Coalition; a place for undocumented youth like myself to meet weekly, share their stories, and learn how to become a part of the movement.
During this time, I was a part-time student at the College of Staten Island, completing my pre-nursing requisites. Unfortunately, even though I had taken the entrance exam and scored above average, I was unable to apply to the program due to lack of status.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was a dream come true for undocumented youth like myself, giving me temporary work authorization and status, however the processing time was quite slow, and I had not received my approval yet. Fortunately, a few weeks before the application deadline for the Fall Semester, my Deferred Action approval came in the mail, allowing me to apply.
I am proud to say I got accepted, and am currently a Nursing Student at the College of Staten Island. I plan on pursuing a Masters in Nursing and becoming a Nurse Practitioner. Additionally, after my host-site learned of my DACA approval, at the conclusion of my internship, I was offered a job as their Civic Engagement Coordinator, and I accepted.
It feels like my life has evolved so much, in such short months. But DACA is temporary. It allows me the privilege to work and pay taxes and contribute to the economy, as long as I plan in 2-year long intervals and never leave the country.
My story is not unique, many other DREAMers across the United States face similar situations. We want to stay here, we want to contribute, we want to make America better. We can’t do that if we constantly face uncertain futures.