I remember drawing myself as a lawyer with crayons on career day in elementary school. I saw myself as equal to all of my classmates. We were told that we could grow up to be anything we dreamed of — that is, if we put in the work necessary. I realize looking back that I couldn’t even fathom then how being undocumented in this country could limit my dreams.
When I was 16 years old, I realized that my situation was different from my peers. My parents taught me to take advantage of opportunities they had sacrificed by leaving Mexico. In an effort to do this I joined the National Honors Society and Model United Nations clubs and maintained a high GPA. The most impactful was the DECA club (an international club for students interested in business and entrepreneurship). I excelled in the competitions and enjoyed every minute of it. I was invited to the national competition with all expenses paid for by my school. It was a dream come true. However, this was the first of many lost opportunities for being undocumented.
My parents, with broken hearts, explained that I couldn’t go to DECA nationals because the competition was in Florida. I would need to fly in a commercial airplane — a dangerous plan, considering my immigration status. My mind was filled with confusion. Flying posed a risk that could lead to my deportation because of my status. I ended up missing out on the opportunity to attend nationals. My joy was replaced with disappointment.
Mine and my parents’ sorrow was short-lived and quickly transformed into action when President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. I found that I was eligible, and with my parents’ support, I became a DACA recipient. This meant I could work legally in the U.S. and have protection against deportation for two years at a time as I continued to meet the requirements.
Since then, I have never allowed my immigration status to prevent me from flying — literally or metaphorically. With DACA, I graduated with honors and served a religious mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Washington, D.C. I finally was able to ride in an airplane.
I am currently attending college, working full time and interning at Voices for Utah Children. With this nonprofit organization, I help the immigrant community and other important groups in Utah with their advocacy work. This country provided me with the groundwork for many aspects of my life that may not have been available in Mexico.
Unfortunately, DACA is not a permanent solution. Now is the time to fight for lasting protection for us and for others who are still without any protection. DACA recipients around the country watch the Trump administration closely, fighting for the continuity of the program but especially for permanent protection. A wrong decision could cause DACA recipients to lose everything.
In moments of my life I have experienced fear of flying; both on an airplane, and in front of a blank paper as I write my goals. With DACA, I have felt freedom. I want to continue feeling that.
With the constant uncertainty of this program, we need our community members to continue fighting alongside us. One way is to contact your U.S. senators and ask them to support the American Dream and Promise Act, which would grant dreamers in our state permanent protection. No matter what happens, I will never allow fear to stop me from flying ever again.
Liliana Tapia Bolaños is a college student and intern at Voices for Utah Children. She was born in Mexico and brought to Orem at the age of 3.