By Ju Hong, member of ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education)
Although I recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Political Science, I am unable to use my degree to work because I am undocumented. Not only did I face a difficult time to finding ways to work, I also faced constant fear of deportation – until President Obama made an announcement last Friday to stop deportation and provide work permits to a selected group of DREAMers who meet requirements under a new immigration policy.
This historic announcement would not have been possible without the courageous DREAMers who stood up and shared their stories, held events and rallies, contacted elected officials, and led hunger strikes and civil disobedience actions despite risking deportation. After many years of collaborative efforts to demand for justice and equality, the federal government finally made a move to provide a very limited and temporary relief for many undocumented young people in this country.
For many years, I have lived in fear: The fear of facing deportation and of permanently leaving the country I called home; the fear of being separated from my friends, my family, and my community; the fear of not being accepted within my own community; the fear of contacting the police at a time of need; and the fear of losing my hope and dreams in graduating from college. Today, I feel liberated from these fears. Because of this announcement, I can better focus on preparing for my master’s degree program, provide for my family, and continue to advocate for the federal DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Prior to June 15, 2012, I was unable to get a job, apply for internships, or qualify for financial aid. Thus, I had to work more than thirty hours of week at a Japanese restaurant, mopping floors and washing dishes, getting paid below minimum wage under the table, while I commuted to school and enrolled as a full-time student at Laney College, Oakland. Sometimes I had to stay up all night to apply for limited scholarship opportunities to meet the deadlines. Today, I feel free from these obstacles. Because of this announcement, I will have open doors of new opportunities to use my degree to work and contribute back to society. Not only will I have the chance to work to support my schoolwork, but also I have capacity to support my family. Like one of my fellow DREAMers said, “I feel I am normal again.”
With this announcement, an approximate 800,000 young peoples’ dreams are now protected, at least temporarily. This is huge victory for the undocumented community, but the fight is not over. There are thousands of other young DREAMers who are not eligible to apply for deferred action or work permits because of strict requirements under this announcement. For example, DREAMers who are over 30 years old cannot qualify to receive deferred action or work permits. Moving forward, we must stay involved and work with the Obama’s administration to include all DREAMers because they also have the right to DREAM.
Finally, we must continue to fight for the federal DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform because this announcement is only a temporary solution. Now more than ever, we have strength, conviction, and power in our hands to organize, mobilize, and take collective actions to solve our broken immigration system. Soon, we will fulfill all the 11.5 million dreams.