Last semester, a friend of mine mentioned he was undocumented. We were hanging around the big black table in the kitchen of La Casa Cultural talking when he said this. We weren’t close friends, but we knew each other fairly well. I had met him at Bulldog Days over quesadillas at the Berkeley buttery, where we both had talked about our passion for science and education. (He would go on to double major in science and the humanities, while I would dump physics for history.) We had bumped into each other in classes and at La Casa for almost four years. When he said that he was undocumented, I was stunned, even a little hurt, because he hadn’t shared his story with me before. We were two undocumented students who had never really known each other.
A year before our conversation, I had spoken to the Yale Daily News about my experience as an undocumented student, hoping that other DREAMers (undocumented students who have benefitted from the DREAM Act) would come out with their stories. The News used my story in a Weekend article about undocumented students at Yale; I was the only DREAMer in the article who gave his full name. A few DREAMers sent me messages of support and gratitude for my willingness to discuss my undocumented experience in public. But no one came forward with their own stories.
Few students publicly identify themselves as DREAMers. Almost no one mentions that we are second-class citizens who were brought to the United States at a young age, or that we can neither vote nor leave the country when we want to. Three years from now, we may be gone from the country. Or we may be temporarily working in the States with no guarantee of future employment. Or perhaps we may have legal residency given ungraciously to us by Washington.
But politicians will not give us anything if we do not tell them who we are and what we want. And few DREAMers at Yale have dared to stand up and speak.
DREAMers have different reasons for keeping their statuses private. I cannot speak for everyone, but I understand one reason: Undocumented Yalies live and work in an environment that is scary. We are scared about what our friends and classmates will think of us as people. We fear being seen and talked about as “those undocumented kids.” We don’t want our personal issues to be out in the light. So we keep our statuses private, tucked in an envelope from the Unites States Center for Immigration Services beneath a stack of papers deep in our desk.
It shouldn’t be this way. We are undocumented, but we are also much more than that. DREAMers differ in personalities, interests and skin color. We exist in the cultural houses, fraternities and residential colleges. We also exist outside of them. A dream unites us all: to have access to all of the resources that we deserve as Americans. It is not a private dream.
Yale does not have an undocumented student movement. A few organizations, like MEChA and the Dems, have taken immigration reform under their wing. They’ve done wonderful work getting scholarships to New Haven DREAMers, protecting undocumented workers from exploitation and rallying support for immigration reform. A few months ago, they launched Yalies for a Dream, an organization that advocates for institutional financial aid for undocumented students in Connecticut. But to my knowledge, only a handful of DREAMers have actively participated in it. Without undocumented student leaders, Yalies for a Dream lacks experience with issues that only undocumented students intimately understand, such as institutional financial aid, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and advance parole. Yalies for a Dream is an opportunity for undocumented students to share their experiences with the rest of Yale and rally behind issues pertinent to the undocumented community.
Groups like MEChA and the Dems are powerful allies that will propel immigration justice forward. But allies can only do so much. To build an undocumented student movement at Yale, we need DREAMers at the forefront of the fight for our civil rights. It’s time for DREAMers to have a voice here. It’s time for our suitemates, friends, professors, administrators and representatives in Washington to know our stories.
Juan Carlos Cerda is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .