11 years, 6 months, and 15 days

These were the first words from my mother to me after not seeing her for, “11 years, 6 months and 15 days.” That’s how long it took for us to reunite. Here on the cusp of immigration reform, a national policy that can take me from undocumented to citizen, from the shadows, to free and connected with the liberation of the men and women, boys and girls with whom I share so much of my experience. At the moment where I can look my mother in the eye and say for certain that the hardship and separation from my family was more than worth it.

On November 17, 2001  I walked alone through the desert of Arizona. I was 16. I spent the first 2 nights and 2 days crossing the Arizona desert with so much fear, with so many daylight nightmares, with no food, but only a gallon of water. I didn’t want to die. I held myself to my gallon of water. My destination was Idaho. I wanted a better life, a better future. I like many immigrants in this country – which we now we call our home – decided to risk everything including our lives in search of the American Dream. It has been a tough path. The journey to the USA has been one of liberation, courage, and persistence.

I am not the typical DREAMER like Alicia, at least not by the definition that has ignited a movement for comprehensive immigration reform. A movement that I feel radiating liberation much like a spiritual torch. I am back with my mother now, and I know that for the moment, I am still undocumented.

I am not the 4.0 high school honors student that Alicia was, but the 3.8, and I may still be dreaming of a better life, of becoming a psychologist. And though policy definitions threaten to create a divide between us, when we share dreams— I am Alicia. Alicia’s parents brought her to the U.S. when she was eight years old in search of a better life. As she grew up she realized her life was never going to be like everyone else. There were times where she wanted to give up and drop out of high school.

“It was devastating to watch my friends get a driver’s license, prepare for college and plan their careers,” Alicia said. But that didn’t stop Alicia. She adapted to American traditions and learned to love and respect them: “if you have a dream you fight to accomplish it, and if you fall down you dust yourself off and you keep going,” Alicia said. That is what she decided to do. When she was fourteen she got her first job as a waitress. She was determined to make enough money to fund her college education.

Unfortunately when she was sixteen her mother got very ill and they went through some really rough times. Her mother was hospitalized for a long time and once released she had a hard time moving around. She didn’t have the heart to continue with her dreams and sacrifice her siblings’ well-being. Alicia worked really hard to help her dad provide for the family, and once again her dreams of pursuing an education were gone. Alicia doesn’t regret placing her family first, because as she says “I know it was the right thing to do.”Alicia now has two beautiful children.

Last year Alicia was given a new opportunity with the Deferred Action for Children Arrival. This opportunity changed her life and her family’s life completely. She now has a driver’s license and a permit that allows her to feel free. She can now take her children to their dance lessons and school activities without fear of getting deported: “my children learned to pray all the prayers out there. On the way from home to school they would pray ‘please god don’t deport my mom’” Alicia said in front of a crowd in Bozeman, Montana.

Once again, she has the chance to follow her dreams and plans to do everything in her power to become a psychologist and so she can give her children the opportunities she didn’t get. But, her permit only lasts two years and wonders what will happen to them once the two years have gone by.

DACA offered a small chance for many to begin fulfilling the American Dream. But there are many who are not there yet. Many like myself who don’t even fit the legal definition of a dream student: I came when I was 16 years old, and not when I was fifteen – in fact, I wasn’t even brought to the US; I came by myself. I am not the immigrant who speaks with a “clear” western USA accent – I have an immigrant accent. I am Norma. Norma came about 4 years ago. Back in her home country, she was studying to become a lawyer. Things got complicated and her father had to come to the US. She was eighteen when she came to the states. She still wants to be a lawyer, but she cannot apply for DACA because of the age requirement. She also wonders whether she will be able to get documents if we pass an immigration reform bill.

When I wonder about the thousands of immigrants who are not only providing the labor supply to the US, but are actually creating labor in the States; I am Benito. Benito came to the States many years ago and like many have put up his own business and in fact his other family members have other businesses throughout Idaho. The other day Benito was teaching me about basic economics: “Fernando in order to be better organized we need two separate accounts; one for the general fixed expenses and the other for everyday expenses – that’s how you build a business in the US.” That’s the spirit that many immigrants like myself share whether it’s in the business sector, the legal sector, or clinical sector.

Though today I am still undocumented, my spirit, the spirit I have gained from meeting so many women and men, children living through the same conditions as I do, doesn’t depend on having a paper that tells me that I get to be here, in my home. But it would make a big difference in my life. Every day of those 11 years, 6 months, and now 26 days I have wondered what would it feel not to be undocumented. To rest easy, put my feet up and just know that I am home.