Depression, anxiety, frustration: This was my reality as an undocumented young woman living in the United States. For many years, the love and support of my family was the only thing that sustained me.
In 2012, my life changed with the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals federal program, known as DACA. A weight was lifted off my shoulders when I learned I would be able to live a normal life. I immediately began to daydream as I had when I was a little girl, optimistic about my new life in the U.S. My new DACA status would enable me to finally be able to come out of the shadows — not only to survive, but to thrive.
My newfound joy and excitement and that of many others like me sparked attacks from local politicians. In Arizona, the state I call home, officials maneuvered to bar residents in the program from obtaining driver’s licenses, and a lawsuit against education access for DACA program recipients immediately followed. These efforts compelled me to join a local organization and become a community organizer.
As I integrated myself into the immigrant youth movement, I continued to live my life. The fight for justice brought me many things: confidence, knowledge and a new perspective on life. But most important, it brought me love.
In 2015, my son was born, instantly bringing light into my world. I had carried him for nine months with mixed emotions of hope and fear. I shared the same fears of most expectant mothers, but I also bore worries in my heart they did not. I thought about how the world would welcome the child of a “Dreamer.” I cried when I played out the scenarios in my head. What if the government ended DACA and tried to deport me?
What happens to our son if ICE comes to tear our family apart in the middle of the night?
The stress was relentless, but I made it through and found ease at the first sight of my baby’s smile.
The past two years have been like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There have been many ups and downs in motherhood. I remember my heart filling with joy when my boy said, “Mamma” for the first time, and I also remember the worry and frustration I felt as he started to fall behind and was diagnosed with delayed speech development. But my son and I have an indescribable bond. He refuses to fall asleep at night unless I am by his side and his little hands can touch my face. Our family is bound by unbreakable love.
Still, in the back of my mind, the uncertainty about what could happen to our family has never left me. Recently, that anxiety has accelerated. DACA recipients have again become the subjects of a political struggle after President Donald Trump halted the program in September. Our lives are now in the hands of politicians whose extreme partisanship could threaten our livelihood if a permanent solution is not reached.
I find myself thinking about what my family and I will do. If we can’t work, how will we put food on our table? What happens to our son if ICE comes to tear apart our family in the middle of the night? These are painful questions I now have to plan for. There are more than 800,000 DACA youth across the country who face the same questions, many of them also parents. Ending the DACA program is more than just about dollars lost to the economy. It is more than just companies losing employees and it’s more than certain elected officials getting their way. Ending DACA means ending the livelihood of real people. It means homes lost, families living in fear and hunger. It means children like mine crying as they are torn from the arms of their mothers.
Congress has the opportunity to pass a permanent legislative solution to protect Dreamers. Negotiations have been held and shared with the public. I just hope that when they finalize their decisions, they will remember that there are real human lives hanging in the balance.
Korina Iribe Romo is an Arizona State University graduate student, DACA recipient and community organizer. She is advocacy director at the student organization Undocumented Students for Education Equity.