There is no discernible difference between Maria who was born in Colombia and her younger sister Andrea who was born in the United States. They went to the same schools, saluted the same flag, and recited the same Pledge of Allegiance every morning. They’re two sisters who experienced the same childhood. However, one of them rests securely in her American citizenship while the other is forced to count down the days until her DACA expires.
To many people, DACA is an acronym that flashes on the bottom of their TV screens as they watch national news. To me, it is the program that allows my best friend to continue living and thriving in the United States, a place where she has lived since she was 4 years old.
I met Maria Rodriguez at freshman orientation at Florida State University. Weeks later, we realized we were living right across the hall from each other and quickly became close. We bonded over our love for Indian food and crappy punk rock music. She was incredibly driven, always studying for her classes. I would never have guessed that she was anything but secure in her future. A year later, she confided in me that her ability to stay here rested in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) that was enacted under the Obama administration.
Under DACA, a promise was made to children who were brought to the United States. If they passed background checks, were enrolled in school or the military, and entered the United States before age 16 they could live, work and study here for periods of two years. When the two years were up, they had to renew their DACA. There is currently no clear path to citizenship for the children who were raised in America and subsequently placed under the DACA program.
Maria is an American in every single way except the formal piece of paperwork that would file her as one. She grew up in Ocala, Florida, a city known for its horses and BBQ. Two golden doodles played in her backyard. Her parents drove a Ford Taurus. Her 21st birthday was Miley Cyrus themed. The word “y’all” is splashed throughout her vocabulary. Everything about the way she speaks, dresses and acts is indicative of her roots as an American-raised child.
The United States is the only country she has ever called home. Her memories of Colombia, the country she was born, are limited to a handful of snapshots and the stories passed on by her parents. Yet despite her having a classic American childhood and getting a degree from a pre-eminent American university, she wonders every day if she’ll be deported.
Maria and the “Dreamers” are a group of talented young adults determined to build a future in the country they grew up in. They’re aspiring doctors, lawyers, teachers and journalists. The average age of Dreamers is 25. The average age they were when they came to the United States is 6 years old. This means the average Dreamer has been building a life for themselves in this country for 19 years. Ninety-seven percent of them are working or enrolled in school. Maria herself earned a 4.0 during her undergraduate degree at FSU. In one year, she will have her master’s degree in Public Administration. In four years, she will have her law degree. Wouldn’t it be foolish to send these young people away right as they’re about to start giving back to the country they grew up in?
The fate of Maria and the DACA program remains uncertain. In September of 2017, President Trump rescinded DACA. However, since then, a number of federal judges have demanded the program be reinstated. The outlook of Maria and the Dreamers continues to be hazy as the courts and the White House volley their futures back and forth.
My relationship with Maria might be a personal one, but my opinion on the Dreamers is a general one based on logic. I want the dreamers in this country because I believe that they are resilient and hardworking human beings. We as a country must ask ourselves if we’re going to support our youth. The Dreamers who grew up in American schools and learned to drive on American roads are America’s children. I want to believe that America is a land of law and order. However, I also want to believe that it’s a land of compassion and opportunity. There needs to be a clear path to citizenship for Maria and the other 800,000 DACA recipients who are working hard to make this country a better place.
Last year when Hurricane Irma was destined to hit my hometown of Tampa, Florida, Maria opened her home to me and four of my family members. We hunkered down in her house with her pet pig, Petunia, and waited out the storm. Maria has always been compassionate and welcoming to everyone she meets. She loves this country. This country is her home. I can only hope that at the end of the court decisions and repeals, this country will be just as welcoming to her.
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