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Dreams Deferred

A real-life look into the path to citizenship


(page 3 of 4)

The question comes too frequently. Where are you from? The answer, for two residents who aren’t citizens, is never easy. When a friend asked Carolina recently, “I just stood quiet,” she says. “I don’t know what they want me to answer. I’d have to tell you my whole life story.”

Neither sister feels American. The country’s policies haven’t embraced them. This isn’t capital-H Home, it’s a home. But they don’t identify as being Mexican, either. Mexico is a home, but it’s one they haven’t seen in more than a decade. Home is California, Mexicali, Escondido, the United States, Mexico—and none of those places.

They settled two hours from the city where they grew up, where their extended family still lives. But they’ve never returned. They couldn’t. Not if they wanted to come back in.

Cousins have been born, grown up, and Carolina and Diana have never met them. They’re Facebook friends instead. One cousin messaged Diana recently on Facebook. She didn’t know how to respond.

“In a way, I want to talk to her,” Diana says. “But in a way I can’t because I don’t know what to talk about. It would be a lot easier if I could have coffee with them. When you’re chatting online with them it’s different. It’s so different.”

Diana has been more private about her status than Carolina. In college, Diana found a job at an insurance company that she knew would pay for her schooling. No one there asked about her work eligibility and she didn’t volunteer her status. “I wasn’t going to do anything to harm that job,” she says.

Their status limited their options. They didn’t have work permits for the paid assistantships and research jobs other students took. While colleagues in her master’s cohort got more experience by working on campus, Carolina babysat.

But as they’ve grown into their undocumented status, they’ve learned that the obstacles are part of their unique American experience. Carolina and Diana aren’t ashamed to be undocumented. They’re fascinated by it. As they climb farther into academia, their status influences what they want to study: migration trends, how being undocumented affects families, couples, relationships.

Carolina has embraced the increasingly emboldened stance of a generation of Dreamers like her, pointing to their advanced degrees to convince the country of their value. She’s blogged about it. She and Diana started a Facebook page called UndocuPick-upLines with two friends. (Sample: “You’re so hot you could melt I.C.E.”)

For now, Diana is working as an organizer helping get undocumented youth like her enrolled in a temporary deportation deferral program. She wants to start applying for Ph.D. programs next year. Carolina is working with Wong at UC San Diego, researching immigration.

She’s deferred her acceptance to University of Chicago for a year, hoping to save money first. She plans to start next fall. Still, she feels frustrated by the uncertainty that clouds her future.

“I’m trying to make plans,” she says. “I want to pursue my Ph.D. I want to teach. I want to do all these things. But I can’t guarantee anyone—the university, my family, my friends—that I’ll be here in the next five years or the next 10 years.”

In the meantime, she and Diana both hope Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform measure. Then the weight they feel might be lifted, and the nagging questions might be answered.


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