My mom brought me to the United States when I was 9. She brought me here for a better future, with more opportunities to earn a living.
But until President Barack Obama instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, I lived in constant fear that the life I built in the U.S. could be taken away in an instant.
I was one of the first 50 people in Chicago to fill out a DACA application at Navy Pier. Four years later, my legal protections and gateway to a brighter future are in danger of being taken away.
To me, DACA meant having the ability to live my life outside the shadows. It meant I could get a job as a janitor in Chicago’s northwest suburbs to help support my mom and our family. When I’m not working, I’m at school, working hard to earn my teaching degree so I can be a math teacher. My dream is to be able to teach and inspire students, and DACA gives me the ability to do that. That’s what DACA means to so many of us — the chance to support our families and enrich our communities.
That’s all we’re asking for — the opportunity to continue to live in the only country we’ve ever known, to live with hope instead of fear.
President Donald Trump continues to take that hope away from us. Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump Administration would not renew DACA, pushing more than 800,000 immigrants back into the shadows. I felt my fear return again. Now, 122 DACA recipients are losing their status every single day. Mine expires in 2019.
Despite the racism and bigotry coming out of the Trump Administration, I still believe in humanity. I still believe we can win legal protections for immigrant youth. Congress needs to step up and pass a clean DREAM Act, no strings attached, to protect tens of thousands of immigrants. After all, according to a January 11 Quinnipiac poll, a vast majority of Americans — 79 percent — support granting immigrant youth like me full legal status to protect us from deportation. They understand that no one benefits when immigrants are forced to live and work in the shadows.
But Republican leadership is playing political games, tying me and my family’s future to funding a racist border wall. They’re holding funding for children’s health care hostage. Republicans control every level of government — the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court — yet they’re claiming it’s our fault if the government shuts down. Any government shutdown, or failure to protect immigrant youth, falls squarely on their shoulders.
If Republicans won’t budge, it’s up to Democrats like Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to be a voice for our communities in Congress. Democrats need to use the leverage they have to guarantee legal protections for immigrant youth.
If Congress does not pass a clean DREAM Act, they need to understand the betrayal immigrant communities across the United States will feel. And our communities will bring that anger to the ballot box in November.
For the first time in my life, DACA made me feel like I had a voice in the country I’ve lived in for decades. We will not let politicians like Donald Trump take it away.
Vanessa Cadena is an SEIU Local 1 janitor. She lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.