A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel back to the moment I found out I had been accepted to Harvard. I felt unsurpassable and overwhelming feelings of belonging and reassurance. This time, however, I was a Harvard freshman. And even though I was standing in in the middle of the Science Center mailroom, people on all sides, I was not able to hold back my tears. The letter I had received came from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. It was a notification that my application for Obama’s new immigration initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, had been successfully processed.
The tear-inducing feelings I experienced that day did not stem from the weight of the promises contained in the letter. The promises of DACA are subject to the outcome of the Presidential race, and are only as guaranteed as Obama’s re-election. Unfortunately, if Romney is elected, there will be virtually no promise that the 1.2 million young people eligible for this brave new incentive, including me, will benefit.
Although there have been other instances in my life in which I have felt this keen acceptance, the feeling has always been temporary, always driven out mercilessly by an ever-present reality. Ironically, some of my most enduring feelings of pertinence have come through my affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Growing up in the Mormon Church, I have seen its efforts to promote family life and family unity, even in undocumented families. Last year, for example, the church had an influential hand in backing legislation that stood against the separation of families of illegal immigrants by deportation processes. But regardless of my church’s friendliness towards illegals, reality has struck, because now that there is a fellow Mormon running for office, I often catch myself praying that he does not get elected.
Despite sympathy from my church, I can’t help but recognize the increasing disparity between my life and the lives of my peers. Without documentation, the list of things I have been ineligible for seems to grow. It’s a pretty long list, filled with things that may seem mundane to any other Harvard freshman, but remain strictly dream material for me: a driver’s license, any form of temporary employment, eligibility for major scholarships, federal financial aid, paid or unpaid internships, and even the ability to enter any federal building. Even during my short time at Harvard, I have come to find that because of my immigration status, I am ineligible for any on-campus job or study abroad opportunity. For other undocumented students I know, not having these opportunities has translated to not deserving them. DACA has changed this, as it will grant many privileges we have been missing out on: Namely, a driver’s license, a social security number, a permit for work, and the possibility of studying abroad.
Counting the freedoms I lack now helps me appreciate the freedoms I have and helps me direct my decisions. Instead of dreaming of one day being assigned by my church to a mission in a foreign country (Mitt Romney served his mission in France), I have enrolled in a foreign language class here at Harvard. And although I cannot cast a vote of my own this November, I have taken to canvassing in New Hampshire with the Harvard Democrats. But volunteering for Obama is something that I do out of more than just free will. In reality, this election may be the last chance for me to secure permission to work in the United States before I graduate Harvard in 2016.
I’m tired of being counted among the millions of qualified undocumented students who have been let down again and again by the DREAM Act. For years, we have watched the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act stagnate in Congress, rising time and time again only to be shoved to the side by senatorial Republicans. But looking back on the history of the DREAM Act makes it clear why, on June 15, when President Obama announced implementation of his deferred action program, DACA immediately became a new hope for me and millions of other undocumented students.
DACA was created simply as a result of a Presidential request to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Taking this into account, DACA is not a long-term solution to the fragmented immigration system. DACA will actually just place me and other applicants into a sort of limbo state, where we will have to keep applying for work permits every two years and never achieve any sort of naturalization. Even though it is far from comprehensive, DACA is significant step forward in terms of consideration. For the first time, many of my undocumented friends can begin to imagine life beyond the fear of deportation. We feel that, for the first time, the country we love loves us back.
Throughout his campaign, Governor Romney has displayed unwavering opposition to the DREAM act and any benefits for students like me. Fortunately, Romney has not had the opportunity to act on his positions. And as Election Day approaches, it falls to voters to make sure such injustice does not occur.
Enrique Ramirez ’16 lives in Greenough Hall.