I was four years old when my mother brought my two older siblings and me to the U.S. She was fleeing a dysfunctional marriage and a corrupt and crime-stricken country. Cleaning houses and selling tamales Veracruzanos was the way in which she fed and clothed us for a long part of my childhood.

Growing up, I was always aware of my immigration status, but I never really knew what it meant, since it had not hindered my ability to do anything that my peers did. Even though I “didn’t have papers,” I could spell better and read more chapter books than all the other kids, so that must count for something, right? I did all that was expected of me. I learned the alphabet, pledged allegiance to the flag, and walked across the stage on graduation day just like your children, your brothers, your cousins, and your friends.

On June 15, 2012, I came home to the sound of my mother bawling and jumping wildly in happiness. At first, I thought: “Maybe her favorite team scored a goal?” However, this was a much more than just a goal for her in a game that she had been playing for more than a decade. She had just found out that her children would have the opportunity to apply for a social security number and work permit, taking them one step closer to the dream she always had for them.

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Since then, my siblings and I have renewed our DACA permits three times and have been able to acquire steady employment and continue our education. My older sister was the first in our family to earn a college degree and currently works for a state department in Austin. My brother is finishing his bachelor’s at UT Austin and is applying for a Ph.D. in Physics. I am currently studying Mass Communications with a concentration in Print Journalism at UTRGV, and I work as a News and Information Writer for the Communications department at the university. As for my mother, she now owns a business, selling the same tamales she used to sell outside of parking lots when I was younger.

Though DACA has made the path to where we are now simpler, it was by no means easy. In high school,  college resources were limited, so we had to maneuver through an already complicated system without parents who could understand the language or the proper qualifications for most scholarships (aka, U.S. citizenship). In high school, once I had my work permit,  I worked two jobs so I could afford to leave for college, and I was still not able to muster up the funds.

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Growing up, I saw my mother mourn many of her loved ones from the discomfort of her home, which was many miles and a river away from her family. In one particularly foul instance, I remember an abusive ex-partner of my siblings threatened have my mother deported — which invoked a feeling in me I don’t think I’ll ever in my life forget.

If DACA were to be taken away, my family would be at risk of being separated, and my siblings and I would have to find alternate forms of employment to make ends meet. All we want is to contribute and remain in the country that we have known all of our lives. We did not choose to be here, but we are, and we are here to stay.

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This essay is part of Neta’s efforts to share stories of immigrant youth in the Rio Grande Valley who qualify for DACA, a deferred action program implemented in 2012 that protects almost 1 million people from deportation. While DACA is at risk of being taken away, youth are speaking out on how it has positively impacted their lives. To submit your own story, email us at la@netargv.com.