Remove the shadow of deportation

For me and for the network of immigrant youth I’m proud to be a part of, I know that 2014 is going to be a big year.

For United We Dream, 2014 brings a renewed commitment to fight for our families and to force politicians to deliver relief to our communities.  For me, 2014 will forever be remembered as the year I was finally granted Legal Permanent Residency status, after spending the last 21 years of my life in the U.S.   Because of my age, I’m not eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, for which I fought tirelessly.  My mother and sister have both gained their citizenship, but it took over two decades for me to finally be able to adjust my immigration status.

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I’m still getting used to this new reality.  For years, my undocumented status haunted me: every time an employer asked for my papers, I left the job. I spent eight years of my life earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but was never able to practice nursing, the profession I dearly loved.  Every day, I wondered if that day while driving or at work, I would end up in deportation proceedings.

Recently my sister reminded me that when I was a waitress, I told her not to worry, that if an immigration raid ever occurred at the restaurant, I was prepared.  My car was parked so that I could get out right away.  I even kept my money and bankcard in my shoe. She cried as she shared the story, saying, “it broke my heart to know that Julieta was thinking that way.”

I know that no teenager, no mom or dad, no worker should ever have to face that fear.  Our parents made courageous sacrifices for us to have a better future, to be able to pursue higher education and follow our dreams, just like I did when I earned my degrees in nursing.  Parents like my inspiring mother have worked long hours and hard jobs to put food on the table and make our dreams possible.  They should not have to live in constant fear.  Even now, as a proud green card holder, I know I am only partially protected from deportation.  The only permanent protection is enjoying the exact same liberties and privileges as any other American through citizenship.

I can now say that some day in the near future, I, will be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.  Not only will I have the privilege and responsibility of voting, but I will also be able to travel, work, and live my life without constant fear of deportation.  Everyone in our community deserves that same feeling of security, knowing that they’ll be able to come home every day after work and see their kids, that they’ll be able to pursue their dreams and practice their careers, and that they’ll be able to travel to see their loved ones.

Our families desperately need relief and for the constant shadow of deportation to be lifted.  We will continue to hold politicians accountable for their lack of leadership and the ways in which both political parties have played games with our lives.  That need for immediate relief is our number one priority.  But as I now know that citizenship is finally within my grasp, I know I cannot stand by and let extremist politicians block or bar our communities from the equality we deserve and from fully taking part in this cherished institution of democracy and citizenship.  

For hundreds of years, our country has fought to overcome injustice and advance the rights of all peoples, from ending slavery, to winning women’s right to vote, to overturning state-sanctioned discrimination in the form of Jim Crow laws.   This is the latest chapter in our country’s longstanding quest.

My community—the nannies and housekeepers who have given their lives to other families, the workers in the fields slaving over crops that fill American kitchens with fruits and vegetables, the construction workers who have literally built America, the hardworking students whose ideas and intellect will shape our country’s future, the undocumented immigrants who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this land—deserve legal permanent residency and an opportunity to become citizens.

Garibay is a co-founder of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth network in the U.S. and currently serves as UWD's Legislative Affairs Associate.  She was born in Mexico and has called Texas home for over 20 years.