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Hear It From a DREAMer

By Shahrzad, in Chicago

My family applied for visitor visas in the early ’90s, and by 1996 we were granted a visa to come visit my grandparents in Chicago from India. It was a really BIG deal for my family, and the fact that I hadn’t seen my grandparents in three to four years only added to the excitement.

Once we got here, my grandparents felt strongly that my siblings and I would get a better education in the USA and convinced my parents to leave us here to be raised by them. My parents went back to India, and my siblings and I were left behind in pursuit of higher education and a better life.

I was a sophomore in high school when I first realized that I didn’t have a nine-digit Social Security number and therefore my options were super limited. Unlike in Latino communities, where there is a bit more openness regarding one’s status, in Indian (South-Asian) communities there is nothing but fear and stigma.

I never told any of my friends that I was undocumented. I always made an excuse as to why I was not planning to go to college, or why I couldn’t apply for certain jobs like my peers. In my senior year, I finally confided in one of my high school teachers, and she was able to find sources for me to be able to go to college.

I attended one semester of art school when 9/11 happened. All of a sudden, the school started questioning my immigration status, and I had to drop out. It was the worst feeling to know that I couldn’t continue with my education. I went into deep depression and started self-medicating through alcohol and partying.

A few years later, I finally got myself together and went back to school. I started in community college, and took one class at a time. I was able to get my associate’s in 2008. I applied to 4-year university to get my bachelors in sociology. Toward the last semester of school, I started getting depressed and feeling anxious that even after a degree I would continue to work at a dead-end job.

However, that summer President Obama announced DACA. It changed my life. I finally was able to hope and plan for my future. As soon as DACA came out, I applied and was granted approval to be able to work. It has been 5 years since I got DACA; I will be renewing it in the next few weeks. Having DACA connected me with a job I love. My income went from living paycheck to paycheck to something substantial. I purchased my first car earlier this year, I have health insurance through my work, and I can travel within the USA. The feeling to be able to travel even within the USA is a small freedom, but its everything I can ask for. This little piece of freedom to be almost normal, like my peers.

But most importantly—this is gonna sound crazy, but I LOVE paying income taxes. I love taking my shoebox to H&R Block and doing my taxes every year. It confirms my belief that I am a contributing member of this country. And, yes, sometimes as a DACAmented youth it feels like “Taxation without Representation,” but it is still something that allows me to be part of this country.

I belong here. I don’t remember anything about India except what I hear from my family members who get to visit or still live there. My Hindi is terrible, my sense of independence and feminism too strong that I know, if I am to go back, I will not survive in a culture/country I no longer belong to.

“Shahrzad” is a pseudonym.


Read more stories from the National Immigration Law Center here

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