A Dreamer graduates: What does future hold for me and my family?

This spring, I walked walk across the stage, received my diploma and threw my cap in the air with my classmates.

My high school experience had, in some ways, been just like theirs: seven hours a day, five days a week, I went to school, ate lunch with friends, studied for quizzes. But then, the clock would hit 3:30; I'd hear the final bell and watch as most kids sprinted out of school, excited to hang out with friends. I rushed out for a very different reason: to take care of my family.

Now that I've graduated, my ability to care for my family long-term is at risk - unless Congress takes action.

My future, my ability to work, and my legal status as an American all depend on what Congress decides to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This is my story, a story I hope inspires change in how Congress, and really, all Americans, view the urgency of this issue. We need a permanent solution to the legal status of Americans like me, and we need it as soon as possible.

About five years ago, my stepfather walked out on my mom and siblings. He was upset by our decisions to be baptized as Christians. My mom did her best to support me and my three siblings, but it wasn't enough. Throughout most of high school career, I worked as many as 30 hours a week, mowing lawns, washing dishes and waiting tables.

Making ends meet has been hard, but I haven't ever lost hope. I was thrilled when I was admitted to Wheaton College, where I plan to study computer science and theology beginning in the fall.

But my hopes and my future were thrown into jeopardy last year by a judicial decision to strike down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

You see, I was born in Mexico. My mother, who was just 15 years old at the time, struggled to raise me. We lived on the streets, with no support. When I was just 3 years old, we made the dangerous journey to the United States, searching for a better life.

Our lives certainly improved, but not to the extent to which my mom expected. At first, I didn't understand why we faced so many struggles. It would be many years before I would understand what it meant that we were undocumented immigrants.

I've always thought of myself as an American; I love this country as my own. But the decision to end DACA - and the lack of congressional action to replace it - makes me feel that America doesn't love me back; it has created a barrier to my success and my future that I can't surpass on my own.

I thought that I could count on DACA to provide me with at least some support, with a way out of forever working the low-wage jobs quietly offered to immigrants without work authorization. But I had not yet reached the minimum application age of 15 years old when the Trump administration closed the DACA program to new applicants in 2017. I worked extra shifts to cover the $495 application fee and scrambled to submit an application shortly after a court order reopened the program to new applicants in December 2020.

But the hope I felt when I submitted that DACA application was dashed by the judicial determination last summer that DACA was created illegally. While Judge Andrew Hanen temporarily stayed the effect of his ruling on those who already have DACA, it meant my application cannot be processed (though my fee has not been returned).

It was devastating news, but I still have hope.

That's because this is a situation that Congress can fix. Congress can create a new legal pathway to citizenship for people just like me. And four in five American voters would support it, especially if legislation creating this pathway were paired with other immigration policy priorities, like improvements to border security and reforms to ensure a legal, reliable agricultural workforce.

My mother always tells me that you can't control the situation you are in, only how you respond to that situation. I did not choose these circumstances, but I will never stop working hard to achieve my dreams and to support the people I love. I'm not asking for the help of the government so that I don't have to work; I'm asking for the opportunity to work lawfully and provide for my family.

Recent advocacy of national faith, business and higher education leaders gives me hope - but I know that members of Congress are likely to act only if they hear directly from their constituents that they want solutions for Dreamers like me. My future depends upon whether my story inspires Americans to act. I hope it does.

• Yahir Rodriguez Sanchez is a senior at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates and plans to study computer science and theology at Wheaton College in the fall.

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