Editor's note: To protect the identity of the author and the author's family, this article is published anonymously under the Fresh U Editor byline.
This election year has been undoubtedly sensitive and controversial, especially when it comes to debate over the topic of immigration. However, to the people whom this issue affects, the topic is more personal and far-reaching than one may originally consider when watching debates between presidential candidates or creeping on argumentative threads on social media.
Because this issue is a lot more complex than assuming that immigrants are negative components of our society, I believe it is crucial that we debunk misconceptions about the community, especially when considering the fact that as a college student, you may have peers that are "illegal" immigrants - otherwise known as undocumented students. More importantly, once I finish clarifying what I can, know that there are still plenty more perspectives and positions to understand when it comes to evaluating the extent to which this issue affects the country and the individuals that are being considered.
1. We are not "Illegal aliens."
I grew up in this country and have been integrated into the education system since kindergarten. As a result, I grew up like any other American child, except of course with a Mexican heritage. One of the most disheartening aspects of this election season is that a group of people as a whole is targeted as being disruptive to society as a result of the actions of few people making mistakes. We may be "illegal," but we are not aliens to this culture, and the value of hard work required to claim our spot in society and eventually our citizenship. As a result, we will always persevere so we can establish ourselves as legal, deserving citizens of this country one day. Moreover, I am not sorry I am illegal because I get to show that something as arbitrary as citizenship does not define your character in this country.
2. We are students, not criminals.
The negative attitudes we have been subjected to are numerous and degrading, but it never deters us. Personally, getting into college is and will always be a significant milestone in my life due to the fact that I am first-generation and did not know that attaining a higher education was even an option for me until recently. Although I have known that I was not a citizen for as long as I can remember, I only realized the gravity of those circumstances during my senior year of high school. The worst aspect of the entire process was that I knew I was different in the worst kind of way. I felt alone in the college application process because there were extra applications I had to fill out that most students did not have to. When you realize that competing with peers to be at the top of your class means nothing if you cannot go to college and continue to show the world what you are made of because you lack the ability to be born in the right place at the right time, it is the worst kind of pain. Even so, the United States is and always has been my home. For students like me who have only known this country as their home, specifically California, then we are eligible to pay in state tuition because we pay taxes and actually live here. Undocumented students like me have shared classrooms with other students since kindergarten because of a non-discriminatory education system that encourages youth, no matter who you are, to succeed in life. Whether I was accepted into a world-class university or a community college, I can pursue higher education through support of the Dream Act, DACA, AB540 and other legislation that supports my desire for higher education.
3. Mexicans are not the only undocumented students you will find.
Because of the wall that Trump has focused a lot of attention on, most people assume that the undocumented student population is mostly Hispanic. However, there are plenty of other demographics that have immigrated and have integrated into society than you would think. By generalizing the problem and blaming these issues on Mexican immigrants or immigrants from South America, it only perpetuates the wide-scale ignorance of who is actually affected by any future legislation and who you are talking about with respect to illegal immigration. Here are more statistics about immigration that are open to interpretation, especially since this is not the only source of information you should look at; after all, neither is this article.
4. If I could be here legally, I would be...
Whether it was due to desperation, asylum, timing or the American Dream, there are several reasons for illegal immigration now and throughout history. One of the most common arguments that you will probably hear is that this country was founded upon immigration and continues to diversify and thrive as a result. On the other hand, now we see immigration as an unnecessary surplus. This has to do with an immigration system that has long-since needed reform, especially with an evolving economy. If you look at the history of immigration reform, it clearly has not been able to adapt much to continue to use immigration as an advantage in our economy. Waiting in line for years (in most cases decades) for legal immigration is so unrealistic and impractical that illegal immigration is worth the risk in every aspect, which is why there are about “11.1 million unauthorized immigrants” in this country. Essentially, while there are avenues for legal immigration, most people do not qualify for entry under those narrow categories, which does not allow them the option to traverse legally or much less wait in a line for that option to appear one day.
5. We are undocumented and afraid.
We may not have citizenship, permanent residency or many resources at our advantage, but we have both our heritage and a country instilled with values of equality that we hope remain true in spite of many inconsistencies everyone has been noticing regarding that right in several aspects of our society. Many of us do not have the privilege of speaking up because we fear the consequences of backlash from society as well as the law. Some students like me are protected through DACA and have some form of federal protection that allows us to remain here legally so long as we remain as outstanding citizens and do not engage in illegal activities, which I would like to believe that most people try to avoid. For those of us who feel safer speaking up about this sensitive issue because of DACA or because you know friends that would want you to support them for who they are and not dismiss them because of where they born, I hope you feel the need to help support the undocumented community.
Being under so much pressure to keep stable and undeterred throughout this election year has been especially difficult for the undocumented community. Being a victim of cyberbullying and a target for criticism, I know the risks and pain that come with being public about my immigration status. But then again, I also believe in freedom of speech as a basic human right. Although I still struggle to say that I am "undocumented" out-loud to most people, I am not ashamed of where I come from and neither are most undocumented students. However, because the rest of my family does not have the same type of protection through DACA that I do, I chose to remain anonymous in this piece. With so much tension and charged emotions revolving this issue, not many of us get the chance to speak up because of the limitations on our rights and freedoms. But for those of us that do have the grit and privilege to try and represent the rest of us, I hope you keep studying hard, loving your heritage, supporting this evolving society for the better and trying your best to create a greater understanding of our struggles as we try to assimilate legally and socially. It is hard, but it is still a fight that should be fought for the sake of people trying to survive so that we can succeed collectively with respect for each other's backgrounds.
Lead Image Credit: Dream Activist via Flickr Creative Commons