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ICYMI: Kenia Calderon: “Four Years After DACA, Our Fight Is Not Over”

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Ahead of the upcoming United States v. Texas Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, Kenia Calderon, a DACA-mented student at Drake University, reflects on the impact the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has had on her life in a new piece for the Des Moines Register.  

Calderon notes that, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, the fight for immigration reform will continue until “every undocumented human being in this country receives the respect and peace they deserve. Regardless of legal status, parents and children deserve to sleep at night without the fear of being separated from their loved ones.”

Read Kenia Calderon’s piece “Four years after DACA, our fight is not over” below or online here.

On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama announced an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I was walking around my neighborhood on the east side of Des Moines with my little sister. My cousin called me and was screaming on the phone: “Obama just announced legalization for us. We’re going to have papers soon!”

I began to cry, my body was shaking, and my heart was beating like never before. I had been waiting for this day since my family and I migrated to the U.S. The president’s executive action would give us deportation relief, a work permit, and a small dose of peace.

My family and I crossed the border in 2005, when I was 11 years old. We walked across the desert for three days. I still remember every vivid detail of that journey. The anxiety, fear, exhaustion and hope. I didn’t understand why we had to come to the United States like this; I just knew we had no other choice.

In January 2016, El Salvador became the world’s deadliest country outside a war zone. My parents foresaw the danger we would face in our native country. As I grew older, this became clear and I’m not sure we would still be alive if we wouldn’t have escaped when we did.

I have always known about my lack of legal status. My memories of those three days don’t let me forget about my reality in this country. My opportunities were always limited because I was the “criminal” they talked about in the news.

The chances of me going to college were very slim without a Social Security number.  After seven years of working hard in school to get the best grades, I was still not good enough for any four-year institution. They wouldn’t accept me if I didn’t have a small piece of paper to validate my worth. Or so I thought.

DACA changed all that. As soon as my work permit arrived in the mail, I got a job and I haven’t stopped working since. The summer before I started my education at Drake, I worked three jobs to save up enough money for my tuition. DACA does not make us eligible for FAFSA or any student loans.  If we choose to pursue a higher education, we have to pay out of pocket or receive private scholarships.

Four years ago, I was crying tears of happiness and disbelief. Now, four years later, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have because of DACA.

I have been able to buy my parents a home, get a driver’s license, and live without fear of being deported. This fall, I will be a senior at Drake University. Which means I am 332 days away from giving my diploma as a gift to my parents.

I am so close to accomplishing the dream I’ve had since I was 8: graduating from college.

Still, my fight is not over.

Any day now the Supreme Court will let us know their decision in the US v. Texas case, and the result of the decision will affect millions of new Americans like myself.

On Nov. 20, 2014, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, also known as DAPA. He also announced the expansion of DACA. Through these actions, close to 3.6 million undocumented parents could be granted the relief I gained back in 2012.

However, these two executive actions drew strong opposition from 26 states that filed a lawsuit being debated at the Supreme Court. This lawsuit has blocked the implementation of both actions.

Because of the Republican-led lawsuit, undocumented parents and youth are waiting for an answer. Parents are still living in the shadows and paying taxes that they will never benefit from. We still have undocumented youth uncertain about their future.

These families deserve the opportunities I was given through DACA. These opportunities are only possible because someone who did not know my name or where I lived fought for my future. Other undocumented immigrants and allies took their stories to the White House and pressured Obama to act on immigration.

I’ve told the story of how I got here to thousands in hopes of changing the undocumented immigrant narrative. I am now able to speak in front of our elected officials about what it means to grow up as an undocumented child and how our parents deserve a shot at a life without fear.

DACA-mented young adults like myself will not rest until every undocumented human being in this country receives the respect and peace they deserve. Regardless of legal status, parents and children deserve to sleep at night without the fear of being separated from their loved ones.

Follow these hashtags on social media to stay informed as we wait for the Supreme Court’s final verdict: #DAPA #DACA #ImmigrationAction #SCOTUS #FightForFamilies