From the Voiceless: A Letter from DACA and Undocumented Swarthmore Students
When I hear “my vote doesn’t matter,” I hear that undocumented/DACA students don’t matter to the rest of America. I hear that I’m invisible. I hear that my accomplishments, my contributions to society, and my voice doesn’t matter.
In 2012, Obama began a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) that granted a 2-year delay from deportation for immigrant students who qualify. Unlike the proposed DREAM act, DACA does not offer a path to citizenship for its recipients, who have to continue renewing their status indefinitely until a path is decided by the US government.
Immigration laws today give undocumented people very narrow options for a path to citizenship. Certain people only have the option to marry, coincidentally be a victim of a crime, or seek asylum. Sometimes there is no way to become a citizen. And DACA isn’t a great solution either. DACA status does not give us the right to federal aid, to travel back to our home countries, or to vote. It is problematic, but the Trump administration is working to remove even this from students who have lived their entire lives here, and know nothing but this country. Even students legally residing in the US because of DACA are now being targeted, so it becomes unsafe to tell anyone of our status. Change needs to happen. If not for you, for us.
The following are stories and quotes from students at Swarthmore who are undocumented or on DACA status:
“At my high school, a student led group had a voter’s registration table in the cafeteria to get as many eligible students registered. I was approached and asked to ‘please register! Exercise your civic duty and vote!’ I was embarrassed because I knew the people who were trying to persuade me to register. My DACA status is something that I couldn’t share publicly in high school, which is the reason I was unable to register. Unfortunately, I had to say no, and they didn’t hide their disappointment at my unwillingness to register.”
“I sat in Sharples and heard two students conversing. ‘I don’t know why people keep asking us to vote, it’s not like what we say matters to anyone anyways’. They were just slightly wrong. Their voices matter. But mine doesn’t.”
“It’s hard telling people that I am on DACA status. Sometimes it feels like people start seeing me as helpless. They’ll stop talking about politics around me, or not mention federal aid, or bring up every way that I could qualify for a path to citizenship, as if I haven’t already gone over every scenario multiple times with different lawyers. I have had countless ‘friends’ joke about my status and make deportation jokes to try and ease the conversation. I have had countless more offer to marry me so I can get citizenship. People feel as if they are required to help me, as if I haven’t lived my whole life persevering and fighting to succeed in a country that has not given me the resources to do so.”
“I appreciate the students trying to persuade people to register, even by going to the extreme measures of making it seem as if their life depends on it. Maybe because their life does depend on it. Mine does.”
“When I hear people say ‘my vote doesn’t REALLY matter’ or ‘my vote won’t have any big effect on the results of the election,’ it pisses me off. As a DACA recipient I do have a few more privileges than people who are undocumented and not eligible for DACA, but the right to vote is not one of them. So, when people that have the right to vote choose not to it infuriates me. I wish I had the CHOICE to vote. The opportunity to have a SAY in what I think matters and is important to me. I WISH I could take part in choosing the people that directly affect the way everyone in America lives. But I don’t. I have to blindly hope that voters will make the right choice and have to accept the outcome. This is my way of voicing what is important to me and I want to tell everyone that has the right to vote to go out and VOTE. Every single vote matters now more than ever. Vote on behalf of the ones that do not have that right.”
“This is not what I want. I want to wake up in the morning feeling like I can look forward to a future that I worked hard for. But if laws don’t change now, this limbo that I am in will continue to haunt me every single day.”
“Our voice should be heard because we’re such a significant population in the U.S. and we make contributions to the nation, but we reap none of the benefits. All of us are Americans, but not in the sense of documentation. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was undocumented in high school. I was told that I was ineligible for federal financial aid, loans, or work-study—so there was no way to pay for college unless I had a full-funded scholarship (which didn’t have a residency or citizenship requirement). Many of the steps I took to apply for college ruled out tons of options for me. I still don’t know if I’ll have a professional job after graduating because I can’t get a work permit.”
“It would be nice to wake up one day and not have to worry about whether or not ICE is going to send you ‘back’ to a country that you have no memories of.”
“I am one of you. A fellow Swarthmore student that you have probably interacted with at some point. I came to the United States as a young child and found out in middle school that I was undocumented. My entire life in the United States has been paved by immigration policy. It dictates how I work, how I educate myself, how I travel, how I live. I have DACA status which provides me with some protection but not much. I am in college now, something extremely uncommon for people like me as only 5-10% of us attempt college due to several institutional and systemic barriers in place against us. Even less manage to graduate with an undergraduate degree. Despite that, I am one of you and I am not the only one. There are a few dozen of us among you at Swarthmore. We live with you, eat with you, work with you, live with you. We are among the few privileged and lucky ones that have fought through the system to get this far. We are trying to represent our people in a positive way when so many across the United States are fighting to do the opposite. People like us are living in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what the future might hold but hopeful that something good will come soon. This is my plea, our plea, to ask you to help us. Go out and vote.”
“Talk to people about us in a positive way. Watch your words in class and on campus. We are always around and we are always listening. Words hurt but the right words can help change someone’s view on people like us. Get out there and make a difference. Millions of people across the country are counting on you. Your fellow Swatties are counting on you.”
We, undocumented and DACA students of Swarthmore, ask that you take us into consideration when placing your ballots. We can’t vote. But you can.