Dreamer: The true cost of obtaining my green card

A few weeks ago, I received an all too familiar “Priority Mail” envelope from the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) — the federal agency responsible for processing various visa petitions and benefits. 

My brother and I had received these envelopes each time we received our work permit, a small, red-blueish card, after being approved under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This time, after tearing open the envelope, I noticed something was different: the card was green.

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After 29 years of waiting, I finally received my “green card.” Unlike DACA, which only provides two years of protection against deportation and the ability to legally work, a green card grants the right to live and work permanently in the U.S. 

 

But before someone points to me as the “good immigrant” who stood in line while others are calling for special treatment, let me set the record straight: I didn’t do it the “right” way, as there was no “right way” or “line” for people like me and millions of others. 

My green card was only possible through DACA, the delicate application of existing law, and the bond of love with my wife. Anti-immigrant hate-groups, and unfortunately in recent years many Republicans may say I am exploiting the system. They are wrong. 

I simply navigated the immigration system, and with some luck and the love of marriage, was able to create my own path to citizenship. 

Over the past few years, DACA-recipients were able to utilize an existing process called advance parole that allows travel abroad with permission from the government to depart and return. This authorized re-entry created the channel to update our immigration status especially if we had a citizen relative. 

This path would work for only a very narrow margin of Dreamers, and not the many other deserving immigrants who have never had a chance to adjust their status.

The process is not breaking news. Republicans have already criticized the program as “back door amnesty” and attempted to restrict its application. 

In his first year in office, President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE issued a memorandum directing the Department of Homeland Security to restrict advance parole

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Feinstein calls for hold on Kavanaugh consideration Grassley releases letter detailing Kavanaugh sexual assault allegation MORE (R-Iowa), Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, published a report scolding the Obama administration for allowing “thousands of DACA recipients to exploit an immigration law loophole to obtain green cards.”

As an immigration attorney, it’s hard to reconcile achieving this long-awaited, life-changing milestone with the reality that so many of my friends, family and community — all Americans in my view, just without the papers to show for it — are still at the mercy of a newly-invigorated deportation machine that continues to separate families.

It’s unfair I am on a path to citizenship with many opportunities now open while the lives of other deserving Dreamers’ or undocumented immigrants are still dramatically subject to the whims of the president’s tweets.   

Last year, the Trump administration terminated DACA, but gave Congress six months to come up with a permanent solution for Dreamers. The deadline came and went with no progress, continuing to leave hundreds of thousands of young people in legal limbo.

For some in my own family, the goal of a green card is still unattainable and deportation is still a frightening reality. My younger brother is a DACA recipient and my 74-year old mother remains undocumented. There is no clear way for them to obtain citizenship. 

Even more alarming, the Trump administration is encouraging Dreamers, citizens and legal permanent residents to accept a toxic deal in which we have to choose Dreamers over our parents.  

Leaders who are no longer undocumented and members of Congress must allow undocumented families to lead the strategy, not just use them for their stories. 

The Dreamer movement has struggled and fought successfully to be more than political props to be used by people not directly connected to the consequences: It was a long and hard battle for us to not only arrive at the negotiating table, but to find a seat.

Sitting at our kitchen table with the green card on the table next to the “Welcome to the United States” guide that was included in the envelope, I listened to my brother and mother discuss the latest immigration debate. 

My brother tossed his DACA card on the table, signaling he couldn’t accept a green card knowing my mother and other immigrants would be thrown under the bus. I backed his position. 

I will never forget the 29 years I spent in the United States undocumented. I remain committed to pass the DREAM Act and humane immigration reform though my fight will now be in a different arena. 

Coming out now as “documented" is disorienting and I don’t know how long that will last. What I am certain of, however, is that no matter my immigration status, I always belonged here. This is my country. This is my home. 

Cesar Vargas Esq. is a co-director of the Dream Action Coalition.