A College Student on Losing DACA Rights: "I Have No Other Home"

Rey Rodriguez is a "Dreamer," one of 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and granted work permits and temporary protection from deportation under the Obama-era initiative DACA. Earlier this month, President Trump repealed DACA.

DACA Justina Rodriguez
Photo: Courtesy Justina Rodriguez

It was a frigid day in March of 1997 when my parents and I arrived in America from Argentina. We packed our bags and set out into territory uncharted by our family to give me a better opportunity for school, for a better life, for hope. They came with legal visas, but, uninformed and with no one to guide them, they failed to obtain work permits—so when their visas expired, they stayed and worked anyway. We left behind our dog, our friends, our family, jobs, you name it. But we also left behind poverty, a high-crime neighborhood, and grim job and education prospects.

Or at least that’s how my parents tell it. I was 2 years old—so I don’t remember any of this.

VIDEO: This Is How We Feel Today: Life After DACA

The first thing I do remember is Christmas morning in a wood-paneled, partially finished basement in West New York, NJ, where we—my young parents and I—first lived. I remember is Bergenline Avenue, watching Sesame Street, and playing in Donnelly Memorial Park in my '90s multi-colored parka. I remember moving to River Edge, NJ, where I became a big sister and had my first kiss on the corner Fifth and Midland Ave. I remember the living room where I watched The Simpsons and came out to my parents. My first memories of the U.S. are like those of any American—they're of the story I call home.

Though Spanish was my first language, I picked up English well enough in day care and through daytime television to bypass the need for ESL. I have no foreign accent. (Though if I did, would that make me less American?)

Still, I am not a citizen. My friends were shocked when I told them I couldn’t go on my high school trip to Europe because I might not be able to come back. I had been living in an upper middle-class town, attending a school that gave every student a laptop to do their homework on. My status as an undocumented immigrant was completely invisible—as far as anyone could tell, I was a normal American teenager.

When I reached my senior year, I felt like I didn’t have a future. There wasn’t anyone else at my school who was also unable to go to college. Then, in 2012, I heard about DACA, an initiative created by the Obama administration that would allow me to study and work here without the fearing deportation.

DACA has allowed me to go to college like the rest of my friends shortly after my high school graduation in 2013. I stayed out of trouble, buckled down, and studied, getting into the honors program at Bergen Community College; studying Mandarin Chinese, my fourth language after Spanish, Italian, and English; and even picking up a few leadership positions on campus. I’ve also been able to work in office settings without an issue—at the moment I work an administrative assistant and study part time. In my time off, I write fiction and poetry. I hope to pursue a career in social work and start a used-book business on the side. I love the life my family has built for me, and I am forever grateful for it. It was hard in the beginning, but DACA gave me a reason to keep working on it.

Justina Rodriguez
Courtesy Justina Rodriguez

It’s funny, America was always home to me, but I only started strongly identifying as an American when I saw the rallies in Charlottesville—people trying to tell us immigrants that we are not welcome. I was never a fan of anyone telling me I couldn’t do this or be that. After seeing myself as a foreigner for so long, it felt strange yet liberating to understand that my outsider status doesn't need to conflict with my belonging here. Here, in the ultimate melting pot (or salad bar), I can retain everything I am—an Argentine-born, queer, transgender student, administrative assistant, and writer—and still be a part of something bigger. I can be me, which is something I struggled to be for so long. Here, I can be a proud immigrant and an American. That’s part of the beauty of the only home I’ve ever known.

Losing DACA has me worried—though to be honest, I thought it was going to happen even sooner. My girlfriend, Alyson, and a few friends who know of my status keep asking me what it means for me. Alyson, who’s an American citizen, wants to marry me so that I can become a resident. It’s a tempting offer, but there’s so much that marriage implies, legally, culturally, and ideologically, and it’s not a decision I want to take lightly.

Though some are optimistic, I cannot help but fear I will be made to leave everything I have ever grown to love in this country: Weekends spent discovering North Jersey's underground music scene, Fourth of July barbecues, diners, New York City, road trips to the Florida Keyes, my friends, the diversity, and so much more.

There is a life I have built—and want to continue building. It’s here, in River Edge, New Jersey, in the United States. While I will forever hold onto Argentine culture as a part of me, I will never see it as my home. I have no other home to "go back to." This is my home.

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