Since I was 4 years old, I always knew that as soon as our whole family had visas, we would be getting on a plane to America from South Korea. We grew impatient as this process took so long, but we went on with our everyday life without much impact.

My friend Ryan (name changed for privacy) also waited 4 years to come to America, but his story is very different from mine. He lived in Guatemala during a civil war. People were tired of corrupt government and dreamt of a better life. His father was at risk of being forced to join the guerrilla. Wanting a better life for his family, he left his children and wife behind and headed for California looking to secure a safer and better future.

His wife eventually joined him while Ryan and his brother lived with their aunt. 4 years later, the family was reunited in Los Angeles. They knew that crossing the border with “coyote” smuggler was just as risky as staying in a non-progressive society where poverty, violence, and civil war was all they knew. However, the high risk of crossing the border at least came with the hope that if they made it, there could be better future. The family no longer had to live in the midst of civil war.

Ryan’s parents worked diligently to provide for the family. His mother cleaned houses all day, and his father worked in a factory. They were granted legal work permits, legal social security cards, and legal IDs. They both worked hard, paid their taxes, and did their best to be law-abiding citizens. The only thing that was missing was legal documentation to live in the United States… but once again, this was the better option than living back home.

Ryan and his brother were taught to study hard, get good grades, and go to college to secure brighter future. Ryan didn’t even realize that he was “illegal” until he was actually accepted to a Cal State University. When he went to enroll in University, he learned that without a green card, visa, nor birth certificate, he couldn’t get financial aid. Because the family couldn’t afford to pay for his tuition, Ryan made the decision to go into the workforce although his heart was for higher education. Ryan found a job in a charter school where he could live out his heart for mentoring teens.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), created in 2012 under Obama administration, allow people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study, and work in America. In order to apply, they must meet the following requirements: under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, came to the US while under the age of 16, have continuously resided in the US since June 15, 2007, be enrolled in school or have equivalent of a high school diploma, and never been convicted of a serious crime.

Those protected under DACA are known as “Dreamers.” Since DACA creation, nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants have been granted protection from deportation. And nearly 690,000 are currently enrolled in DACA. Current DACA recipients come from around the world, but more than nine-in-ten are from Latin America, and nearly half of current DACA recipients live in California (29%) and Texas (16%) (Pew Research). Under Trump administration, new applicants under will DACA will no longer be accepted, and their current permits will begin expiring March 2018. Unless Congress passes legislation allowing new immigration status, Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020.

DACA gives youngsters the opportunity to be known as “legal” residents, to continue on with higher education, and work towards a career. Most Dreamers are “givers, not takers.” Of course, in every population of people, there are bad apples in every barrel. But you can’t judge the whole barrel by few bad apples.

Most Dreamers love this country because they were given education, safety, security, and opportunities that their motherland couldn’t provide. They want brighter future for themselves and their families just like every other immigrant. They consider America to be their country as most of them grew up in the US from childhood.  

When I think about my friend Ryan, it pains me that he was robbed of opportunities that were granted to me. Both of our parents wanted better future for their children. Fortunately for me, we didn’t have to flee South Korea in a hurry. We could afford to stay as long as our paperwork came through.

However, for Ryan, his parents made the decision to flee Guatemala due to civil unrest even if it meant leaving illegally. Ryan and I both didn’t have much say in the matter. We followed our parents. We both studied hard in hopes of better education and opportunities that our parents wanted for us. We both lost our moms at a young age. We both had obstacles to overcome.

Fortunately for me, my legal status allowed me to chase after my dreams of going to a top university and following my passion in my vocation. For Ryan, all that came to a sudden halt. In the past 6 years I’ve known Ryan, he has always worked multiples jobs to support his family, especially his younger siblings after his mother’s passing. In addition, he found the time to mentor teens through his local church.

Ryan has impacted many young people that he has mentored over the years. And those of us that are blessed to call him a friend have been touched by his story and enriched by who he is. He was granted DACA, and he still dreams of going back to school one day.  

I asked Ryan, “How can we best support and advocate for Dreamers?” This was his answer:

“By exactly what you’re doing. Asking and getting to know someone’s story. I believe if you listen to life stories, you come to know an individual not by their label but by who they are: their character, their content, their humanity, and their heart. We’re not how many portray us. Dreamers are beautiful individuals who want to contribute to our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nation to be better and greater. Most of us pose no threat to our nation. We have a lot to offer… all we want is the opportunity to do so.”

Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

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