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Continue to dream

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About 7 years ago I wrote an article in the Duke Chronicle called "Is it too much to dream?" During that time, I was a poor college upperclassman at Duke but with one big secret: I was undocumented.

My mother and I came to the United States as political refugees. We lost our asylum case, and because I was a minor at the time, my case was tied to my parents'. I was thus without a status since the age of 11. Throughout high school, I worked hard, and was somehow lucky enough to be admitted to Duke.

I still remember during my first week on campus, I stopped by the international admissions office and inquired the lives of those undocumented immigrants who came before me. "One of them was a piano prodigy; we never heard from her anymore." The admissions officer kindly told me, "The other one was a chess genius, also never came back."

Compared to them, I had no special talent. What did I possibly have to compete? At last, I decided I had grit, so I stayed four more years.

In March 2012 I was one of the 700,000 people who were granted Deferred Action Childhood Arrival, or DACA, commonly known as the Dream Act. I was eligible because I completed at least two years of college (I graduated after 4 years from Duke) and had not broken any laws.

In the short span of last four and half years, I paid off my student debts, $120,000 in total, bought a house in San Francisco and another one in Seattle and worked at top tech companies in the Silicon Valley and Seattle.

In the last paragraph of that article I talked about attaining the American Dream. I did what I set out to do. Currently I have a high-paying job, a large dog, a car and a house. I have "made it."

With a new presidential administration on the way, there is a real possibility that DACA would be slowly phased out. The new administration may decide to no longer grant DACA renewals, silently ending the program. It is an approach least controversial and most consistent with the campaign promises.

Please, do not let the government do this.

First, without being able to work legally, I would be out of the job as early as March this year. Second, by being in the DACA database in the first place, I made it obvious for the administration to target and deport me. Soon enough, I would be out of the country, supposedly back to “where I came from.”

Sometimes when we debate about policies, we forget exactly who we are talking about. So here I am, hoping to offer a human touch for an undocumented Duke graduate who benefited tremendously from DACA. Here are my “selfish” reasons that we should not end DACA:

  1. I contributed more than $350,000 to national, state and local income and property taxes while working as a software engineer, all while not eligible for social security or medicaid benefits when I retire. I also provide rent and hire Americans in my side real estate business and would continue to pay back to society.
  2. To this day, I still believe I did not do anything wrong. My family broke the law long time ago because they did not know better. But why was the system set up such that I, who never gave a verdict in court on my asylum case and who did not break any laws since, would spend the next 17 years paying for their mistake?
  3. I have not lived outside of the United States since I was 11—I could not even travel to Vancouver, B.C. even though that is only 2 hours away from Seattle, where I currently reside, because once I leave the country, I cannot return for 10 years.
  4. I do believe in the American Dream, the idea that anything is possible. Had I not believed it in the first place, I would not be where I am today. DACA is everything the American Dream embodies.

We should not let ambitious, resilient and successful young Dreamers be outcasted or deported. Period. Let the Dreamers continue to dream. 

Perry Zheng graduated in 2010 from Trinity College.

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