For 19 years I have called the United States my home, my safe place and a country that I dearly love. Yet it continues to deny me recognition as one of its own as a result of my immigration status. I have lived here longer than in the country of my birth, and I have learned to love every little thing that makes America America, from its language to its seasons, its food and its noise, even its fast-paced lifestyle.
I was born in Ecuador and came to the U.S. when I was 14. As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipient, I have been able to finish college and buy a home — but my life has been measured in two-year increments.
Soon after I arrived in this country, I realized that many of my dreams would not come true because I was missing one piece of the puzzle — “legal status.” I have never let my immigration status define who I am or what I can achieve, but the reality is that it has presented a series of obstacles that have been hard to overcome.
In June 2012, President Barack Obama announced that he would sign an executive order called DACA to protect young people who came to the U.S. as children from deportation. That took my life and dreams on a completely different, and revolutionary, path. The DACA program has been my safeguard, even if I must renew my status every two years. The program has also allowed me to become vocal and get involved in the immigrant rights movement, through which I witnessed some of the worst of this country’s tendencies during the Trump administration.
Many undocumented immigrants like me became easy prey for President Donald Trump, who constantly forced us to fight back against all of the anti-immigrant sentiment and policies that were unleashed during his presidency. Defending DACA on the streets, and in the courts, where I served as one of the plaintiffs against Trump for unlawfully ending the program, has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.
Our resistance and collective power as a movement delivered a DACA victory at the U.S. Supreme Court last June, and then in January, when President Biden was sworn in. Many promises were made on the campaign trail last year that led me to believe that a legislative solution would finally be introduced to protect people like me and the rest of the 11 million undocumented people in this country.
Then, on March 18, HR6, also known as the Dream and Promise Act, was passed by the House of Representatives, promising a pathway to legalization for an estimated 3.1 million people, including DACA and Temporary Protective Status, or TPS, recipients. Passage of the bill can be credited to the immigrant youth and community that for years has led the fight to build a movement to provide our people with respect, dignity and the pathway to citizenship that we deserve. The bill’s success in the House brings the promise of long-overdue relief to millions of undocumented youth and TPS holders who have organized, rallied in the streets, shared their stories and flooded the halls of Congress.
The vote brought me one step closer to ensuring that I will be able to have permanent protections in this country and remain together with my children and family.
Nonetheless, as our immigrant community celebrates the bill’s passage, it is crucial to recognize that the legislation has problems that must be fixed. It includes harmful measures that rely on our unjust, discriminatory criminal legal system. It leaves out community members who should be eligible for a pathway to citizenship, but would not be simply because they might have been caught up in the legal system.
I know we face an uphill battle to pass this legislation in the Senate, but we urge senators to take up the bill quickly, and call on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to immediately remove the harmful provisions, reject any additions that would further criminalize members of our community and move swiftly to pass this measure.
Eliana Fernández, of Patchogue, is lead organizer at the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Make the Road New York, an immigrant rights organization, and a plaintiff in Wolf v. Batalla Vidal, one of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals cases decided by the Supreme Court, which ruled that President Trump’s efforts to end DACA were unlawful.