I’m angered, exhausted and drained. As a formerly undocumented but now a US Citizen, Mexican-American queer woman. However, I’m young, and I know that for others this fight for dignity has been for much longer and that for some it has only just begun.
I’m also afraid. But I’m not willing to let someone think that they have the right to dehumanize me by removing my rights as a human. Now more than ever, I am willing to fight. I understand it’s easier to be said than to be done because there is some risk into it.
However, this is a risk that I am willing to take because I am tired of hiding in the shadows.
On September 27, 2016, my mother had a residency interview with US immigration at Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. My mother was nervous and scared. She kept asking me, “Ivanna, que tal si no me la dan?” I just kept telling her that everything would be fine. I had had my interview with immigration three years earlier. The interview was short, and I was automatically approved. I thought her experience would be the same.
That day, I woke up with a smile on my face believing she would be approved. I rushed to class and on the way encountered a friend, an international student, with tears in her eyes: She had just learned that she hadn’t been hired for a post-graduation job in US.
International students who wish to reside in the United States after graduation can only stay if a company is willing to sponsor them as a full-time employee. If they are hired, they are allowed to stay for a year. If not, they must leave. My friend, who had built relationships and connections in the United States, was now facing the truth that she could no longer stay here.
If she had not been denied, she would then be eligible for an H1B visa and eventually she could apply for a Green Card. Unfortunately, Donald Trump has said he would revoke the H1B visa. My friend’s main motivation for her hard work was to be able to support and provide for her family back home.
I tried to console her and said, jokingly, “If you don’t find a job, maybe I can marry you?”
I was hopeful.
And then my phone vibrated. My mother was texting me. I smiled. As I scrolled through the messages, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My mother had been denied her residency papers.
My mother and I immigrated to the United States in 2000. She brought me here so that I would have access to a decent education, the kind of education she couldn’t afford to give me in Mexico.
But the United States was not the paradise we imagined it would be. We were welcomed by discrimination, a lack of resources, and intense poverty. There were times we did not have anything to eat, and I was forced to just sleep my hunger off. Other times my mother would feed me while she went without. One time my mother and I were kicked out of our apartment house in the middle of the night during a snowstorm because my mother had run out of money. I was 6 years old.
Looking at those text messages, I felt so powerless. My mother had just been taken away from me. We came here for the opportunity to climb up the socio-economic ladder. We came here with hope. And we gave so much back. We paid taxes. We served our community. We loved our new home.
Like all immigrants to this country, we have roots here. We have family here. We have a life here.
Who decides who gets to climb this socio-economic ladder? Shouldn’t we all have access? Is that not the core of the American Dream? Shouldn’t we all have that equal opportunity without being discriminated based on our legal status, race, class, religion, or sexual orientation?
I am an American, too. I am an American immigrant activist. And I know that it is much easier for me to share my story and openly declare this because I have one privilege: my citizenship. However, as I share my story, I invite others to do the same. Now, more than ever, we must coalesce as a determined community.
We do not need to prove anything to Donald Trump or his supporters. We know who we are.
However, we must liberate ourselves from the belief that now we have no power. That belief is a kind of oppression.
We must demonstrate courage by taking this power that belongs to us. We must empower our communities and show solidarity with other marginalized peoples. We must organize and fight.
This is our fight, a fight for the security of the over 43 million American immigrants, documented or otherwise.
Every single story matters — including mine and that of my mother.