I remember agonizing over what to write in the Social Security number box on my veterinary school application. “I’ll just leave it empty,” I told my mom.
My parents had brought my sister, Mayra, and me to Wichita in 1993. I was only 3, Mayra just 6. Leaving our lives in Guadalajara behind, we thought Wichita – America – would be the only home we’d ever know. Although I have few memories from Mexico, I can still vividly remember arriving in Wichita for the first time, somehow sensing the gravity of the moment as I peered at the bright lights on Broadway Street, my mother’s tight grip on her baby boy finally relaxing.
Things were tough early on, but my parents’ dreams for their children made it all worth it. As I grew up, my parents always seemed to be working. My mom worked in Wichita’s aviation industry and my dad as a mechanic. Both routinely looked for additional income, offering their grueling work ethic to assist on various odd jobs – anything to provide for us.
Despite all that, they somehow remained a constant presence in our lives.
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My own drive no doubt stems from my parents’ unshakeable determination. My education always came first. I ended up following my sister’s footsteps, each of us graduating from the International Baccalaureate program at East High. Like my sister, I attended Wichita State, graduating with a degree in biology before furthering my education. My sister earned a Masters degree while I earned my Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State. I am now a licensed veterinarian.
Yet even as my sister and I worked toward our futures, the cloud of our immigration status always loomed. And then in 2012, our prayers were answered when people like Mayra and me gained protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. No, we didn’t become citizens overnight (or even have the option to become citizens), and we didn’t receive legal permanent residence status either. But we did receive the gift of not having to worry that all of our hard work and dreams could be for nothing.
That all changed last week. In suspending DACA, it felt like President Trump seemed to look me in the eye and claim that I wasn’t an asset to America, the country I love. My fate as a person living in the U.S. – a decision I had no say in whatsoever – is now in the hands of a Congress that appears deadlocked at every turn.
Five years after arriving in Wichita, our family welcomed my little brother, Gustavo, born right here in Wichita. The end of DACA could mean taking Gustavo – a U.S. citizen – away from his very own family.
Sometimes I hear people say, “Why don’t they just get in line like my great-great-grandfather did a hundred years ago?” Respectfully, I must tell you that we had no such line. My parents don’t have prestigious backgrounds in engineering or medicine that allow some to come to America on special work visas. We had no close family in America who could help us get on the path toward citizenship. Believe me, my parents would have loved to come to America legally from Day 1.
When owners bring me their beloved sick cat or dog, my immigration status no longer matters. What matters to them – and what matters deeply to me – is making their dear animal feel better. My dream of a long career as a veterinarian caring for the pets of our community remains alive today, but my security is once again unknown.
For now, I hope that Congress will take action to protect DACA recipients, all of whom have no criminal record, 91 percent of whom are employed, and 100 percent of whom were told by President Trump, “We are going to deal with DACA with heart.”