By Steve Li, ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) Member
In honor of National Coming Out Week: Undocumented and Unafraid we are featuring stories of API dreamers. The DREAM Act would provide undocumented students that arrived before the age of 16 in the US a pathway to legalization.
It was a sunny morning, and like any other school day, I was in the bathroom getting ready for school when there was a loud knock on the door. I didn’t want to answer it since no one ever comes that early in the morning without notice. So I woke up my mom to see if she was expecting anyone. She said no, but they kept knocking. She got up and went to answer.
That’s when five officials dressed in black rushed in and searched the apartment. I was brushing my teeth when one opened the door and told me to get out and get dressed. I kept asking what was going on, but they wouldn’t tell me anything. Finally one of the officers asked if I knew why they were here and told me that I was undocumented and they would be deporting me back to Peru.
This is the only home I remember; my goals and dreams have always been in the Bay Area. I followed their orders, thinking it was just a mistake and that I would be back at school later that day.
Outside I was searched and handcuffed. My mother was, too. I was separated from my parents, and we were taken to Sacramento and thrown into jail where I was treated like a criminal. I went to bed hungry every night, physically and mentally exhausted.
Every day I woke up thinking that I should be going to school rather than locked up 23 hours a day. I kept asking what was happening, but I couldn’t get anywhere. Immigration officers never came to the jail. The thought of being forced to leave my home and go to a country where I no longer know anyone was devastating. It was mind-boggling, not being able to turn to any one for answers.
After three weeks in Sacramento County Jail, things started to sink in, and the little hope that I had left disappeared. I was flown to Arizona, far away from my family and friends, without being able to contact anyone.
There I spent three days in a room the size of the City College cafeteria with around 200 other people. We slept on the floor in our clothes, and I could smell the sweat and body odor of everyone around me. Some, caught crossing the border, still had mud and dirt on them; others were sick, coughing vigorously. We were packed in tight, only allowed to move to go to the bathroom.
The Detention Center in Arizona, in the middle of nowhere, was surrounded by high fences with razor blades and electrical wires with cameras and security guards everywhere. I told myself this was a nightmare and I would wake up any day now. But days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months.
The stories of others in the facility, from different parts of the world, really touched me. There were many young people like me. I met someone from Guatemala who had come here with his parents when he was very young. He had no say in immigrating and was just finishing high school when Immigration and Customs Enforcement took him into custody in Los Angeles. Now he, too, expected to be sent back to a country he had no memory of.
I was lucky to be living in the Bay Area and have my community organize to bring me home, eventually convincing Senator Feinstein to introduce a private bill to stop my deportation. But there are many DREAMers who are still incarcerated in Arizona and elsewhere. We want a chance to pursue our education, a chance to use our degrees, a chance to give back to the communities we grew up in and love.
This is not a Hispanic or an Asian issue. This is an issue that affects all of us. This will happen to more and more students, friends, and neighbors. We have a broken immigration system, and we need to fix it. I don’t want other students to go through what I went through. This is why is so important to pass the Federal DREAM Act. I’m Undocumented and unafraid.