How DACA Changed My Life

Hanging in the balance-01

By Gabriela Gomez, Intern, Communications Department, NCLR

Gabriela (L) with NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía

I am a college student. I am a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. And, I am  a DREAMer. I am many other things, too, but these factors are especially significant because they advance my story by defining who I am and what I fight for.

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I came to the United States when I was eight years old, oblivious to the decision my parents had made and wide-eyed at Maryland’s beauty. There was something so idyllic about my new hometown, from the snow-covered streets to the kind gestures of complete strangers; this place gave me a welcoming sense of comfort. But as I got older, the hardships of being an undocumented student forced me to grapple with new feelings of apprehension and frustration, which became heightened as I entered high school. Given my lack of a social security card and a lawful status in this country, I found myself unable to take on the overwhelming costs of higher education. Part of me felt forced to shelve my plans for college and a future career.

But with the support of family, friends, and great mentors, I was able to push through those obstacles. I refused to allow my status to dictate my future; I refused to allow my status to void the sacrifices my parents had made. I was determined to prove that my contributions to this country were worthwhile and to challenge the narrative that the undocumented community is a burden to society. We were here to strengthen the fabric of this great nation. DACA gave us the window and the platform needed to make our case.

Personally, DACA has given me a glimpse of life as a lawfully present American. The thrill of passing my learner’s permit test, of being asked to come in for a job interview, or even of the satisfaction I felt when I submitted my taxes on time—these small instances felt tremendously rewarding. Yet I was most fulfilled knowing I could finally move forward in my career pursuits, in being able to complement my studies with real work experience and not just volunteering. An internship last summer with the Latino Economic Development Center, a community-based nonprofit in Washington, DC, and an NCLR Affiliate, helped cement my interest in public interest work. I engaged with issues—like affordable housing—that impact so many vulnerable and underserved communities. For many of us, DACA made the difference in us imagining the idea of being influencers in our communities to finally pursuing a line of work where we could best serve others and be agents for change.

DACA has been a transformative experience for many DREAMers, myself included. It has given us a platform to highlight our economic contributions to society, and to echo the positive impact of our career endeavors in the United States. One can only imagine what an expansion of this program would mean to the many other aspiring Americans who want the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and to continue contributing to their communities, to the many who have been here for more than ten years and find themselves proudly embedded in the social and economic fabric of the country they call home.

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