The Nightmare of Deportation: a Story on DACA

Melisa Olgun

Priya Swaminathan

Priya Swaminathan

We came here for you, my mom would say. We came here so you could have a chance at life.

Growing up in a house of “illegal” immigrants meant growing up with sacrifice. Sacrificing “home” to come to a foreign country; the language you were so comfortable with to one you had only heard on television; the culture you grew up in. It meant sacrificing your feelings of safety and peace of mind.

And whenever I asked why my parents chose to leave their home and cross the Atlantic to America, my mom always answered with one word: you. She added that the education system in Turkey was difficult, and I would have a chance at pursuing my dreams if I grew up in America. In Turkey, the strength of standardized tests was incredibly heightened. Your career, the rest of your life, was determined by a number, a ranking. Although the United States has its own version of this strict protocol, the inherent need for elitism is not as apparent.

So, I grew up with the Homeland Security cloud looming over us, my family-friends circulating immigration rumors, hoping for a loophole that would save us from the seemingly perpetual purgatory of living in a land that didn’t exactly want us. Being the only American citizen in such a space led me to realize my privilege. Although I had the “golden ticket” to stay in America, if my family had to go, so did I.

The cloud that loomed over us has since dissipated; slowly but surely, everyone around me was naturalized, each telling their own tips and tricks to pass the citizenship exam, each gleaming when they received their certificates. The issue of immigration seemed like it was getting better under President Obama. Even though it wasn’t perfect, this exchange of power looked like a light at the end of the tunnel for us, and it wasn’t necessarily something I always thought of anymore. The immediacy of citizenship, of finally implanting our roots into this country legally, seemed so far in the past I oftentimes forgot we suffered so much.

And then Trump was elected.

The constant flashbacks since the election have opened wounds I thought were healed. When Trump announced he would no longer protect Dreamer students who grew up, but didn’t have the “golden ticket” I was so privileged to have, I couldn’t help but think of my family’s sacrifices. Here are people who gave everything to immigrate here, to have a shot at a good life, and to be told they are no longer welcome because of how they came here. The constant stream of hypocrisy coming from descendants of colonizers who hold anti-immigrant sentiment leaves me speechless every time.

How can you deem one life less than because they don’t hold an arbitrary piece of paper labeling them as ‘legal’? How can you deny someone protection, and the safety needed to get an education, because they don’t have these long, intertwined roots that your white ancestors established long ago?  

It’s a lesson in the lack of empathy, a lack of acknowledgment in one’s past, and a lack of willingness to get out of a privileged bubble they were born into. Yet the privileged criticize and revoke access to this country from people who didn’t choose to be born into families who don’t have legal status in the United States.

It’s only been a week since Jeff Sessions announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), created to protect those living in the US who illegally immigrated here as minors. DACA recipients are given the chance to pursue the same opportunities U.S. citizens have access to without fearing deportation; they can work, study, and live. For Dreamers, America is home, and for them to lose their right to home makes disturbingly clear what the current presidential administration values. Dreamers contribute to American society as much as American citizens. They are students. They are entrepreneurs, creating businesses that spur economic growth. They work in health services. They are the backbone of America, where nearly 750,000 young people have received DACA. Each of these Dreamers matter.

I grew up learning everyone deserves a shot at success, whatever it means to an individual, and I should never judge how someone got here. What’s important is they are here, and they are deserving of the same America every other person in this country calls home, too.