Opinion: Undocumented and Unafraid

"I am not asking you to feel sorry for us, I am asking for you to fight for us."

By Efrain Venegas Ramirez | September 8, 2017 12:00pm

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Efrain Venegas Ramirez, one of the 800,000 DACA beneficiaries, shares his story in hopes of reminding people that immigration is a human issue, and starting a dialogue on The Bluff.

by Julia Cramer / The Beacon

When the DACA program was announced on June 15, 2012, I was away visiting some colleges in California. I didn’t hear the good news until I made it home a couple days later.

Since the 2016 Presidential election and more recently the lawsuit threatened by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, DACA has been in the news and much information about it can be found online. Instead of explaining what DACA is, I want to share something more personal. You will read that 800,000 young adults and teenagers (known as DREAMers and named after the DREAM Act) are, and will be, affected by President Trump’s decision to end DACA. 

I want to put a face to those numbers so our UP community can see how President Trump’s decision is directly affecting students on The Bluff — I am undocumented. 

I am one the 800,000 Dreamers who were saddened by the announcement Tuesday morning. Former President Obama says it best: “[Dreamers] are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” 

I was born in Mexico, but my family moved to the United States when I was four years old. I remember that as a young child I would hear a lot of talk about “la migra”, or immigration officers. Back then, I did not understand why some people were scared of “la migra”, yet others lived their lives like there was nothing to fear. Now I know. 

As I grew older, I started to inherit that fear and discomfort undocumented people know all too well. I was told that if I was ever asked where I was born, I should say that I was born here in the United States, simply to avoid unnecessary questions about my documentation. My teachers, peers and friends asked me all the time where I was born. A simple question of where I was born made me so uncomfortable, especially as I grew older.

My story eventually changed — I began to share that I was born in Mexico. But then, another uncomfortable question arose, “Do you go back to visit often?” I would respond with the shortest answer they would accept, which sometimes was simple “no”, other times, it would be something along the lines of, “No, we just haven’t really had the money, time, or reason to.” 

We had the money, time and more than one reason to visit, but we could not visit because if we did, we would not be able to return to our home in the United States.

I have always felt like I had to hide my true self but I am absolutely not ashamed of being undocumented. I am scared that some people would not give me an opportunity just because I am undocumented.

One of the biggest opportunities I have had is the opportunity to study at UP. My dad only went through elementary school and my mom only finished the 3rd grade. 

One of my big motivations to go to college was the realization that getting an education is one of the greatest opportunities I have in the United States that I would have never had in Mexico. By sophomore year of high school, I had made the decision that I wanted to go to college. Everyone at UP knows how hard it is to go through the college application process, and the challenge is greater as an undocumented student.

After applying and receiving acceptance letters from some of the schools, I began to focus on financing my education. I already had some scholarships, but undocumented students are ineligible for most scholarships. All the schools required that applicants fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, but I found that, due to my status, I was ineligible for FAFSA or any other form of government financial aid. 

Left with no other options, I called all the schools I had been accepted to and informed them of my situation. 

Because I am ineligible for FAFSA, only two gave me an option. One of the most disheartening things I heard from an in-state school was that, not only did I have to pay out-of-state tuition (even though I went to school in that state my whole life), but they would not offer any financial aid.

Fortunately, UP was one of the schools that offered a different financial aid application which I was eligible for. As generous as UP is, I still needed a loan to afford to study here. This was my next big challenge. Being undocumented, I thought the only way to get a loan would be to get a private loan. To my surprise, I was ineligible for most private loans. Most required a student visa or a permanent resident card, neither of which I have. 

For a long time, I thought I would not be able to achieve my goal of going to college just because I would not be able to afford it. 

After long hours of searching I found one loan company that accepted my work permit (something that I received through DACA) as a valid form of ID. After overcoming all the obstacles, I finally made it to UP.

The hurdles do not end there — DACA must be renewed every two years. In the fall semester of 2016, my DACA status was set to expire. The United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services office said that they were behind, and they were unable to approve my renewal before it expired. I was working as a Peer Leader in the Physics Labs. I told everyone that my work permit was expired and I would no longer be able to work, but I never said why my work permit was expiring. Eventually it got renewed, but for the months in between, I was unable to work.

These are just some of the obstacles I have faced as an undocumented student. 

DACA was not a perfect solution, but it helped. 

Now that DACA has been rescinded, I face far greater challenges. I am on a five-year plan to graduate in May of 2019, but now I do not know if I will be able to graduate in time. 

President Trump said that Congress has until March 5th to provide a solution for Dreamers. But what happens on March 5? 

I have to live with the uncertainty that March 5 might be my last day on The Bluff. 

After all these struggles and hard work I have put in, I may never get my degree. 

Even if I am not deported then, and congress does nothing, I will have to go back to living without any form of documentation. I will not be able to renew my work permit, or my driver’s license, and I face the risk of deportation at any moment. 

Even if I manage to get a degree, I cannot use it without a work permit. I want to share my story to put a face to all the numbers. But we must remember that I am only one face. This is my story, but the situation and effect of the decision to end DACA reaches many more. 

I am not asking you to feel sorry for us, I am asking for you to fight for us. 

You can show your support for DACA students in our UP community by attending the prayer vigil (Friday, Sept. 8, at 4:30 p.m. by the bell tower). 

The fight cannot end there. I ask that you write to your representatives, even if you have never done so before. I ask that you urge them to support the DREAM Act, so that Dreamers no longer have to live in fear that their own country will deport them to a country they do not know.

Some of us are undocumented, but we are all American.

Efrain Venegas Ramirez is a senior physics and philosophy double major at the University of Portland. He has decided to share his story in hopes of starting a community dialogue around the issue of immigration. Venegas Ramirez can be reached at venegasr18@up.edu.

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