Today, I stand before you as an immigrant, a student, and an active beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I want to share with you the consequential impact that the recent decision by Judge Andrew Hanen, declaring DACA as an unconstitutional executive program, has had on my life, the lives of thousands like me, and its relation to the founding principles of this country.
I have been under the protection of DACA since 2013, at the time I was a junior in high school. I was not aware of my undocumented status until I tried to enlist in the US Air Force. I remember asking my parents about the location of my green card so I could bring it to the recruiter, and instead I had my entire world pulled from right under me. I remember feeling ashamed of my status, as if I had suddenly contracted some sort of viral infection, I could not get rid of. Waves of anger and resentment washed over me as I blamed my parents for putting me in this situation in the first place. The questions that rang inside my head screamed out: Why me? Why do I have to be different? Why do I have to carry this burden alone?
Ever since I immigrated to this country in 2004, I have always considered myself to be an “American”. I am very fortunate and privileged to have been able to attend amazing schools, have wonderful friends, and most importantly, have dreams and aspirations that reflected the great “American Dream” rhetoric that people used to talk about at the time. This is my home; I have no connection to the culture or way of life outside of the United States. When I found out about my status in the U.S., it felt like I had lost a limb from my body. I lost myself. Losing my sense of belonging was the worst feeling; I was suddenly very afraid, and I felt like no one around me could understand what I was really going through.
After applying for and receiving DACA, those feelings began to slowly change. The program has been a lifeline for me and countless others in this country. It has provided us with a temporary reprieve from the constant fear of deportation, allowing us to come out of the shadows and contribute openly to this great nation. It has given us the opportunity to work, study, create businesses, and pursue our dreams. DACA has been our bridge to stability, allowing us to integrate fully into American society. It has allowed us to work towards and achieve our own versions of the “American Dream” we so deeply yearned for.
However, Judge Hanen’s ruling threatens to strip away this protection and cast us back into uncertainty and insecurity. I believe one of the most devastating aspects of this ruling is the emotional toll it takes on DACA recipients and their families. For many of us, the United States is the only home we have ever known. The fear of deportation, separation from our families, and the potential unraveling of our lives is a constant source of anxiety and distress. It is a feeling that no one should have to endure, especially when we have done nothing wrong except be brought here as children. We have become essential members of the American workforce, contributing our skills and talents to the American economy. We pay taxes, we start businesses, and we create jobs. The program has been a win-win, benefiting both our individual lives and the nation as a whole. And although the current ruling does not terminate DACA, the possibility of its future termination and other legal challenges that follow fill me with dreadful emotions I am honestly exhausted of experiencing.
The vast majority of students and professionals under DACA knew this program was supposed to be a temporary fix, a band aid to a larger issue. The exclusion of our parents, friends, colleagues, and loved ones who did not meet the criteria for protective status left us all with a foul taste in our mouths. To many, the introduction of DACA was supposed to be the pathway to so much more. The judicial impasse we find ourselves in today is due to the lack of legislative action, and I will continue to implore our government to engage in meaningful and substantive conversations as soon as possible before it is too late.
This decision threatens the very essence of the American dream for thousands of DACA recipients (and possible recipients). It challenges the principles of fairness, justice, and compassion that this nation of immigrants was built upon. As an immigrant, and student at the University of Houston, I implore you all to stand with us, to support us in our fight for justice and equity. To recognize that we are not just “Dreamers,” but contributors, students, and integral members of this great nation.
And yet despite these challenges, we are resilient. We are fighters. We refuse to let this setback define us or deter us from our goals. We will continue to advocate for a permanent solution, for a pathway to citizenship that recognizes our contributions and the deep roots we have established in this country. I call out to every public and private institution of higher education, to our allies who are sitting in government positions, in businesses, and in their homes to use their power as American citizens to set things right.
Carlos Hernandez is a DACA recipient and a senior undergraduate student at the University of Houston who is majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Law and Public Policy. Carlos is deeply involved in various student organizations on campus, like the Student Government Association and the Pre-Law Society. Notably, Carlos is also a prestigious recipient of TheDream.US National Scholarship, ensuring full financial support for his ongoing educational journey. This impact statement was originally shared on a webinar hosted by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education. Carlos is currently an undergraduate intern with HILSC.