By Nancy, Alumna from KIPP Baltimore
In 2012, I became a part of the first group of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. The purpose of DACA is to protect eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children from deportation. Before being approved for DACA, I never disclosed to anyone about my citizenship status. In fact, my mother forbids me to disclose to anyone outside of my family that I was undocumented. She didn’t want me to take the risk of telling the wrong person and then one day my family would be deported. So, I kept my reality to myself. But here I am today, sharing my story as DACA is in tremendous danger and students and young professionals like me are in jeopardy. It took me a long time to reach the point where I wanted to tell my story, but I’m finally here, ready to share and take on this challenge.
My parents moved our family to America when I was just about five years old. We immigrated to the States from Vicenza, Italy (my birthplace), but as my sixth birthday came around, my father decided to return to his home country, Ghana. At the time, I could not process my emotions completely. All I remember was harboring feelings of fear and resentment towards my father for leaving my mother and me in a country of unfamiliarity.
Years passed and I finally mustered up what little courage I had and asked my mother, “Why did we leave Italy? Why did we come to America to struggle?” My mother answered, “I wanted you to have a great life. I didn’t want you to have the life that I’m living now.” The easiest pathway to that life would be for me to go to college and have access to opportunities she did not have. So, she enrolled me into KIPP Ujima Village Academy and from there I started to check off the boxes.
I was accepted into some of the best private and public high schools in Maryland post-KIPP and ultimately chose to attend the Baltimore School for the Arts. My mother was ecstatic. I started to gain opportunities that she never had growing up in a small village outside of the capital city of Ghana. The first two and a half years of high school were not particularly hard for me. I made friends easily, I made connections with my teachers, and I studied my craft in saxophone intensely. This allowed me more opportunities than I could imagine. But when it came time to face the reality and my next steps after high school, I started to unravel.
I vividly remember my peers full of excitement as they finished their college applications, receiving acceptance letters to their top choices and being awarded scholarships to attend amazing universities and arts institutions. I was frustrated because I, too, had my own stack of acceptances. I was accepted into my dream school and every institution I applied to, but deep down I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford college. I knew that the exact reason why my mother gave up her entire life would not be fulfilled. My frustration slowly started to become depression during the beginning of my senior year. As much as I wanted to stay positive and pray for a miracle, I lost faith. My citizenship status beat my efforts to progress in my goal to become the first in my immediate family to graduate from college. When college became a reality instead of an idea, I was stuck. I was an undocumented student who could not receive federal aid and could not work to pay my way through college.
Then, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that granted me a work permit and deferred action of deportation. I was also able to apply for a social security number which I previously did not have. Although DACA could not provide access to financial aid, it was a huge step in a necessary direction for Dreamers across the nation. I was awarded a full scholarship to attend Towson University and during my time there, I was able to work and intern for great companies in the area. Today, I can honestly say that I would not be where I am without DACA. I’m living my dreams working for an organization that I admire dearly.
Newspaper headlines have been nothing short of devastating to me, and fellow Dreamers, in recent days–they are a stark reminder that DACA is likely to be ended by President Trump by September 5th and that it is crucial for Congress to seek a legislative solution. It is extremely critical that the KIPP team and family advocates for students and young professionals, like me, whose futures are at risk because of their citizenship status’. I understand that immigration policies can be very complicated to grasp, but if we do not utilize all of our resources to push in support of the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017 we could potentially be putting many KIPPsters in danger.
Here’s what you can do today:
- If you know any recipients who are willing to share their stories, listen. We often listen to respond instead of honestly listening to digest what is being said. The only way to effectively understand the impact of DACA is to listen to the people who are affected by it the most. But in your conversations, make sure you do not force recipients to share their stories if they are not willing. Let them come to that decision themselves.
- Be an advocate, a true advocate, by calling your Members of Congress to offer support for the Dream Act of 2017. As citizens of the United States, you have the privilege to voice your opinions and effectively make a change. Your advocacy can have a positive impact on my future, and the future of other Dreamers, and the good news is that it takes less than 5 minutes to help. So, I urge you, your teammates, families, and fellow KIPP alums to call your Members of Congress to urge support for the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017. To place a call simply go to FWD.us to determine who represents you on Capitol Hill and to be connected directly by phone to their staffers. There’s even a sample script you can follow to make sure the staffer you speak with has a clear message of what exactly they can do to be supportive.
As I sit here, reflecting on my journey and the amount of energy it has taken me to get to this point, I’m realizing that I’m back at the state of frustration I had during my senior year of high school. I am tired. It has become a cycle of me checking the boxes to end up being stuck in a state of complacency. I received my degree and accomplished the hope my mother had for me, but now as I sit here in my dream job I am fearful that I may no longer be able to work and that I may ultimately be deported. That’s my reality and the reality of thousands of DACA recipients. We are not criminals or people trying to take jobs from American citizens. We are people who were brought here as children who want to make a positive difference in society and pursue the American dream. So, as my frustration turns into anger it is also turning into a tool to fight for myself and the rights of so many other DACA recipients. We are making positive contributions to society and we belong here.
I urge you to fight with me.