In the weeks following the election of Donald Trump, I sat down for lunch with my friend Martín. Martín is brilliant and charming and wittier than a sitcom character, and he knows exactly how to carry out the kinds of conversations that are meaningful but still entertaining. He is a biology major planning to work in the pharmaceutical industry; Martín is undocumented.
The debate over immigration frames much of our national rhetoric. It is easy to fall into a trap of generalizations in all issues, but assumptions are particularly enticing when they surround areas with which we are unfamiliar. The undocumented experience is one from which many Duke students feel removed. It is hard to imagine the tribulations of a child who considers this country their home and yet is legally entitled to none of its benefits. But, as the Trump administration talks possible immigration reform bills and students theorize about the merits of sanctuary campuses, it is vital to consider a personal perspective. So today, I will let Martín do the talking:
What does it mean to be undocumented in the United States?
"That question does not have a straightforward answer. At face value, it refers to any individual that does not have legal documentation like a U.S. passport, green card or immigrant visa that allows them to be considered legal entities within the confines of the U.S. These individuals are much more than just the middle-aged men looking for odd jobs in the Home Depot parking lot or bus boys that do not speak a lick of English as the mainstream media has led you to believe. You probably are not aware that undocumented individuals walk the halls and fill the classrooms of some of the best universities in the United States. We are much more than our documentation status. We are young individuals with hopes and dreams as well as the work ethic to turn all of our fantasies into realities. It is my goal to orient Duke students to the lives of an infinitely marginalized group that deserves recognition.
Former President Barack Obama recognized that there were many young people who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children and thus had no viable means by which to hold jobs, obtain drivers’ licenses or attend institutions of higher learning. He could not offer these young people amnesty or citizenship so he offered the next best thing: the right to apply to hold legal presence in the U.S. for a period of two years. This program gave undocumented youth access to many of the necessities guaranteed to any U.S. citizens like driving and working. They took this program and ran with it, recognizing they had the chance to realize the American Dream. Yet, except for the few that have gone viral, undocumented students and their stories have gone largely untold and unrecognized by a nation that does not care to acknowledge their existence. This is especially felt at the collegiate level and I dare to say it is at its peak at Duke, at both the institutional and community levels.
I am one of five undocumented students in the Duke Class of 2020. Like all Duke students we submitted our applications in the winter and were accepted by the spring. We take the same classes you do and try to enjoy Duke for all it is. This just about summarizes what things we have in common. For most Duke first-years, class registration during the summer might have been stressful for any number of reasons: uncertainty over what courses might be best for the first semester of college, anger over missing out on that Writing 101 section you wanted because of second window registration, dread over an 8:30 a.m. Chemistry 101 lecture. I could not even begin.
Registration was stressful for me because I had to call the office of the school registrar because the ACES system would not accept my home address, saying that it was invalid. I explained my situation and was met with the following response: “Oh…you’re one of these kids. You’re the third one to call in about this.” Because of my undocumented status, Duke had accepted me as an “international” student and thus ACES would not accept my California home address.
Duke administration was not the only group of people puzzled by my documentation status. I saw the same faces of confusion on my peers at school when I tried to explain how I was making a living in the U.S. without citizenship, why I could not apply to any study abroad programs and how I feared that my parents could be deported at any given moment. I recognized that most of my peers had gone their entire lives without ever meeting or being aware of students living in the U.S. under deferred action, something that did not come as a surprise.
The fact that a person’s legal presence in the U.S. is conditional by nature and hangs on a string does not make for comfortable conversation. However, it is time to move past this barrier and be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversation. By your very nature as Duke students, you are supposed to be some of the most intelligent and forward-thinking young people in the world. You are supposed to pave a better future for this country founded on equality and improvement. For these reasons, I ask that you stand in solidarity with us and make the effort to educate yourselves on our struggles. Now more than ever, this political atmosphere demands support for the undocumented community. Our very well-being as residents of the U.S. has been endangered by a current president that has threatened to remove DACA from right under our feet. We are terrified and unsure of what might happen to us in the future. I could not begin to quantify what it would mean to us if we knew our fellow Duke students were more cognizant and sympathetic to our struggles."
Leah Abrams and Martín Acosta are Trinity first-years. Abrams’ column, “cut the bull” runs on alternate Fridays.
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Leah Abrams is a Trinity senior and the Editor of the editorial section. Her column, "cut the bull," runs on alternate Fridays.