October 17, 2017
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The following post is part of a THINKPolicy series profiling IBM Dreamers and their personal stories. Their identities have been protected for confidentiality.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt American. I have lived in America since I was 12. I went to grade school and high school here, made friends here, and studied hard enough to go to college. America is my home.
But my situation was different. When I was a teenager, I never really understood why my friends and I had different lifestyles or why I couldn’t do certain things that they were able to do. I remember seeing my friends being able to travel and visit the doctor. Their families were able to buy houses and new cars. They never talked about some of the issues that my family faced. I could sense that they didn’t worry or fear as much as my family did.
It wasn’t until my last year in high school when I really became aware of my situation. Many of my friends would get after-school jobs. I knew that those opportunities were out of reach for me—for the sole reason that I didn’t have the right paperwork. I knew there would be roadblocks for me that my friends, or even my younger brother, wouldn’t have to face because they had the right documentation and I didn’t.
I wouldn’t let that stop me. I persevered and enrolled in a community college and later transferred to a university to get a degree in Software Engineering. Getting an engineering degree in America with a minimum wage and without any financial aid is almost impossible. I applied for scholarships that I could qualify for and won a few local ones, but it wasn’t enough for tuition. The majority of scholarships, cash rewards and loans for students require the right documentation.
My family played a major role during my college years. I wouldn’t have made it without my parents. I remember many times when I saw them getting home late from working the entire day and night to be able to afford our rent, living expenses and the school payments. There were many stressful days and sleepless nights dealing with school, work and thinking about saving enough money for my classes. My parents gave me strength and kept me sane – they were my rock during the toughest times and taught me many things. In particular, they taught me to have faith and hope.
The path wasn’t clear. I didn’t know what I was going to do after college, but I had many dreams – I was very ambitious and driven. I taught myself how to develop and design mobile and web applications. I wanted to do something that made a difference; work in an innovative, meaningful field; contribute to the world.
When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was put in place, it was a dream come true. It felt like being liberated. I could now do basic things like get a driver’s license, a bank account, take domestic flights, or buy a house or car. It felt good to not fear or worry about things that I used to worry about.
Because of DACA, I was able use my engineering degree and the skills I had taught myself in programming and web design. I was able to contribute and innovate in the ways I had always aspired to. I received my work permit and got an internship at a major technology company. Since then, I joined the IBM team nearly two years ago. Now I’m part of the team that helps build Watson infrastructure. I get to work every day solving problems and finding solutions to complex issues that I know will make a difference for my company and the clients that we serve.
I feel American every single day. I want to continue to make a difference here in this country. I want the certainty to be able to stay here with my family and friends. I want my kids to be part of this nation. I hope my story helps shed light on who Dreamers are and the work we’re doing to help our communities and economy. I hope that Members of Congress can find a solution to allow us to stay here.
Check back for more IBM Dreamer stories, which will be published regularly on THINKPolicy in the coming weeks and months. Read more Dreamer stories here.