‘To better serve my fellow Virginians’
In January 2018, I will graduate from William & Mary Law School, having benefited from an opportunity that will enable me to better serve my fellow Virginians. However, my ability to serve will be significantly impaired unless Congress passes a bill like the DREAM Act.
I am 25, an undocumented immigrant, and a Dreamer. I was born in England and am the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. In late 2012, I was granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status by the federal government. DACA confers legal presence on young undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors. My family arrived in this country legally on a visa when I was 1 year old. We fell out of status when my father succumbed to a degenerative condition that affects the eyesight. Because of his health, he was unable to maintain his employment and, consequently, my family’s immigration status.
We’ve tried for years to regain our status but have been unsuccessful due to bad lawyering. It’s been an expensive and emotionally draining journey. I didn’t learn I was undocumented until I was a junior in college, however. My parents did everything they could to shield me from the weight of living as an undocumented immigrant.
I also never believed I was anything but legal because I’d heard sound bites about the “nefarious illegal” and really struggled to reconcile the actual life I was living — stellar student and athlete, campus leader and community service volunteer, and friend and neighbor — with what I was hearing on the news. But despite all of this, I dedicated myself to my higher education, which has been fully funded by merit-based scholarships, private financial assistance, and out-of-pocket coverage. My father, a medical doctor who has healed Americans, and my mother, a teacher who has educated Americans, instilled in me the value of a good education. As a result, I graduated with honors from Wesleyan College. Now I’m in my final semester at William & Mary Law School and will become the first DACA recipient to graduate law school in Virginia — and one of four to do so in the nation.
DACA acknowledges that because immigration enforcement resources are limited, current deportation regulations should prioritize violent criminals, not young people with good behavior and moral character, who are in school or the armed forces, and are otherwise assets to the American economy and society. This type of prosecutorial discretion is within the scope of the powers constitutionally enumerated to the executive, and all legal challenges to the original program have failed. To be clear, every DACA recipient is still subject to deportation — DACA just lessens this likelihood — because it was never meant to be a permanent solution. DACA was an opportunity for Dreamers like me to show just how valuable we are to America.
I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with dozens of Dreamers to advocate for a permanent legislative solution that would give us and our nearly 800,000 fellow Dreamers the chance to stay. Several different options have been introduced, including the bipartisan DREAM Act as well as the republican-led ‘SUCCEED’ and ‘Recognizing America’s Children’ (RAC) acts. All three bills require that Dreamers pass a series of rigorous background checks and commit to working, studying, or serving in the U.S. military.
Virginia’s nearly 13,500 Dreamers need our representatives in Washington, D.C. — including Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Reps. Tom Garrett, Scott Taylor, and Morgan Griffith — to support legislation like the DREAM Act. When they do, Virginia Dreamers will be able to continue paying about $35 million in state taxes.
And I’ll be able to walk across the graduation stage confident I may continue giving back to America, my country and home.
DACA acknowledges that because immigration enforcement resources are limited, current deportation regulations should prioritize violent criminals, not young people with good behavior and moral character...
Gloria O. Oduyoye