I am an honor student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a future educator, a mentor, a non-profit worker, a habitual volunteer in the community, a dependable son, a supportive brother, among many other things.
But none of those things seem to matter to some when people learn the part of me that I have hid for many years -- I am a DACA recipient.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established in 2012 and grants temporary protection against deportation and permission to work for undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children. Nevada is home to roughly 13,000 DACA recipients, or DREAMers, including myself.
I have heard horrible things said about my family and me from people opposed to the program. These insults and attacks have become increasingly vicious since the Trump Administration has made it a goal to dismantle the program and the protections it gives people like me.
I am writing this because I know that if those people knew my story, or the stories of any other DREAMers, they wouldn’t hold the beliefs they do about us.
My mom immigrated here as a single mother when I was less than a year old. I rarely saw her as a young child because 16-hour work days were her norm. She entered the country with a visa but wasn’t able to renew because of how difficult it is to navigate our current immigration policy. My older brother and I inherited those same issues.
Despite the fact we pay more taxes than the average family in America, we are not eligible for any type of government aid. Every government document I have, even my driver’s license, has some type of disclaimer stating I don’t have the full privileges of an American citizen.
The restriction of government aid included my education. Even with hundreds of hours of community service, designing an internationally recognized financial literacy program for my high school, and graduating valedictorian of my class, I was not eligible for any federal aid to further my education.
I live my life scared that Donald Trump will successfully overturn DACA and that I could be deported like my older brother was 10 years ago because he didn’t have the protections that I currently possess. I am terrified of even getting a traffic ticket because my younger brothers could lose me that same way.
I wake up every day knowing I could lose everything on a moment’s notice.
But my story isn’t special. Every single one of the 700,000 DREAMers in America has a story like mine. We are teachers, firemen, police officers, soldiers, doctors, nurses, and essential workers dedicating our lives to making this country better for everyone.
Although much of this is unfair, I harbor no resentment. It might not have been my birthright, but through all of this I feel I have earned the right to call America my home.
We are American in every way except on paper and it is time that changed. Democratic nominee Joe Biden pledged to reinstate the DACA program, explore all legal options to protect the families of DREAMers from inhumane separation, and make DREAMers eligible for federal student loans and Pell grants.
It is time we have a president who -- unlike the current occupant of the White House -- recognizes the dignity of every human being in this country and the value that we bring to our communities.
So while I can’t vote, I’m asking everyone who believes in restoring the soul of our nation to cast their ballots for Joe Biden to be our next president of the United States.
Sebastian Cardenas is a college student studying education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is a DACA recipient.