Sometimes I think, why me? How did I end up in San Diego? How did I gain the ability and privilege of going to college for a bachelors and masters degree? How was able to work for an organization that allowed me to travel to over 20 states and 70 colleges and universities. Why was I so lucky to be able to travel Europe as a college graduation gift?
Putting it simply, you can say it was because I was born in America. I was blessed to be born a U.S. Citizen. With that unearned privilege I received a wealth of advantages. Advantages some of my childhood friends never had. Rights and privileges my cousins have worked their entire life for. And benefits which many continue to risk their lives and families for. A risk to experience the land of opportunity.
This unearned privilege is something I forget.
But I’m quickly remind when I invite some family and friends over to San Diego for a 4th of July party, but realize they won’t ever risk traveling here because of the Agricultural, err, Immigration checkpoints found throughout the freeways enroute to San Diego. I think it’s a simple 90 mile drive, but to them it’s jeopardizing their live hood just for a weekend trip. They won’t risk it.
Growing up, I never knew the difference. I never realized when we had trips to Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon, some of my friends wanted to go, but they couldn’t explain that if they left the state, they risked deportation. Honestly, how do you grasp that concept as a 9 or 10 year old? That because of your immigration status, you limit your life experiences for fear of being “found out.” Most of my friends never realized their immigration status until after graduating high school. Which was heart-breaking for most; coming to grips with the truth. Knowing their experiences would be limited to place that didn’t ask for drivers licenses or social security numbers.
Unlike me, there college experience would be limited. Too many of my friends were unable to afford college with out federal and state aid. So instead, they worked for years to save money for an education. Some matriculated after some years and graduated. But even those that graduated were still hindered in their ability to get a job. And all of this was limited because of where they were or weren’t born.
More and more you hear the stories of undocumented students and their struggle to live a successful and productive life while avoiding being caught as an “illegal immigrant.” In writing this piece I can think of many school friends and family members alike that struggled as well. Now, many are naturalized US citizens, but others unfortunately were declined a path to legalization.
Lately, I see the same tragedies in the undocumented students I work with; were many of them have never left their native city because of fear of deportation. They walk around campus with a daily sense of anxiety of being found out. They have add adversity with having less financial support, add obstacles by having to commute to school via bus, bike, or walk because of the inability to get a license. And talent and skill is wasted when internships are out of reach.
Reflecting on those experiences. I have never been afraid to apply for a job and fear that my potential employer uses E-Verify or had to use deceptive tactics to fill out an I-9 form. It never crosses my mind.
I have never cared about the ability to roam freely around the country or drive from state to state fearing being pulled over and interrogated.
How many times have I lost my passport being careless, still known I can travel to Mexico or Internationally with ease.
Many of my friends and family missed out on those types of experiences. And they may never get the chance.
So why me? I didn’t ask for this privilege. Others deserve this more than I. We need change. Legislation like the Dream Act, state and federally, is necessary for people who have great potential and limited opportunity. For people who love this country and it’s principles, just as much as I do. For people who unbeknownst to them were brought here illegally. I hope the day comes (soon) were the Dream Act, more so Comprehensive Immigration Reform, is passed. Were children and young adults raised in American are given the path to legalization and are given the same opportunities that were afford to me.
We will become a better nation and society, when motivated and educated people do not have to hide, be fearful, or sacrifice their potential because of their immigration status. Every day we lose bright minds, skillful workers, and potential new Americans that just want to work hard and live a peaceful and productive life.
I am blessed. I am thankful. I will continue my part to advocate for undocumented students. I will appreciate the freedoms that were given to me just for being born in the United States. Happy Independence Day.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” — Martin Luther King Jr.