Mainstream media is inundated with news about immigration, but it’s crucial to humanize each story because of the lives at stake. No human is illegal. We at NYXT want to personalize this struggle. This is the story of one young woman, undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic, and her journey from discouraged student who couldn’t apply for college scholarships because of her citizenship status, to steadfast activist fighting for the rights of all immigrants.
This September, NYXT is honoring both Educational/Back To School and Hispanic Heritage. While we've touched on the topic of immigration before, the confluence of these themes inspired NYXT to talk more about an urgent situation currently at the forefront of American lives. Immigrants in America, both documented and undocumented, have struggled against the uncertainty that the lives that they’ve known may be taken away from them if they are deported. Especially embroiled in this conversation are America’s DREAMers, students who came to this country as children who, under the Obama administration, have been legally protected under the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) despite their statuses and have the opportunity to attend school and attain work permits. An overwhelming majority of DACA recipients originated from Latin American countries and represent 800,000 of the approximate 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. But this all came to a head in August of this year, when the current presidential administration announced plans to rescind the program, putting lives, families and communities in jeopardy, as this would mean many would be transported back to countries they have zero ties to. Many are also scared that the information they relinquished when applying for DACA will be used against them.
Under normal circumstances, Angy Rivera has a bright future ahead of her: a star student in high school with the support of her teacher encouraging her to apply for college scholarships, the next step of higher education seemed inevitable. But because she emigrated to America from Colombia at 4 years old and has not secured her status, affording college was just a long shot. Many undocumented are ineligible for student loans and public assistance, and private scholarships are difficult to find, leaving the undocumented young with unresolved futures.
As chronicled by Museum of the City of New York, Angy’s story also touches on the private terror of living while undocumented: that low-level offenses, like jumping a turnstile, can lead to detainment and deportation. Taking up two seats on the NYC subway is enough to send an immigrant without legal status back to their country of origin, despite New York’s designation as a sanctuary city and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s staunch stance that he will protect immigrants.
Protestors have continued to come out in droves to demonstrate against the White Houses decision. Attempts on the part of the Democrats to make a deal with the administration to ensure DACA recipients can continue protected status, in exchange for harsher border security i.e. more violence, but protestors stood strong that their lives would not be used as a bargaining tool, especially if their safety can’t be guaranteed.
Undocumented status causes an immense amount of anxiety, living in the shadows with secrets, and especially now, with the uncertainty that you may have to give up everything you’ve worked for in America to return to a country that doesn’t know you and may not welcome you back. It’s not just talented students who are affected; people with disabilities and urgent health care needs, parents, and people a part of our everyday communities who are at risk. New York City especially is a society of immigrants, and extracting them means losing our culture, our backbone.
Take action on behalf of America’s undocumented youth. If you are young and undocumented and are looking for support or information on renewing your DACA status, want to learn more about college financing options, if you want to fundraise, or if you just need to know your constitutional rights, visit the New York State Youth Leadership Council site.