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Voices: But for a Paper, I Could Have Been a Dreamer

Papers. What a difference papers make. That is the only thing that separates me from Dreamers.
Thania Sanchez
Thania Sanchez

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut —I was brought to this country as a child by my family. I was 11 years old. My parents made this decision based on what they felt was the right thing for them and for their kids, but as kids we didn’t make the decision to migrate.

I had no choice but to adapt to my new home. And I did. Over time, I became an American. Perhaps too American for the tastes of my Mexican family, but I liked my new home. In many ways, I’ve lived the American dream. I was able to go to college and become the first in my family to earn a PhD.

In this path, I always try to be grateful and mindful of the opportunities I've had that many do not, for there are many. But if I could pinpoint to the single most important advantage I had coming to America, it was the privilege of a green card. I was able to go to college because of Pell Grants and Cal grants and other grants that only apply to residents or citizens. I worked to support myself through college without problems, because employment was always easily found.

Papers. What a difference papers make. That is the only thing that separates me from Dreamers. They didn't choose to come here any more than I did, and they didn't choose to be without documents. I look at the life of dreamers and mine and it seems we are like subjects in an experiment where I was given the medicine and they were in the control group given the placebo.

Yale professor Thania Sanchez during her graduation from Columbia University. courtesy of Thania Sanchez

And now we live in a country where countless people pass moral judgment on those Dreamers for a choice they did not make. And kids like me, well we're touted as the right way to migrate. But I didn't choose this. I did nothing to deserve this. I am not more or less worthy than any of those kids. I was just lucky. And my life benefited from a paper that allowed me the privilege of never having to worry about getting a driver's license, or enrolling in school, or going to a health clinic, or running from la migra. Of the indignity of being called an illegal and have your entire life reduced to having a paper.

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Recently as President Trump announced the end of DACA, I saw many people support this decision, and even by some legal immigrants like myself. It is baffling to me when other immigrants, those who got here with permits, want to close opportunities for other migrants. It takes nothing from me if Dreamers are allowed a path.

They aren’t taking my job, or taking anything from me. They are just given the opportunities I had. Those of us who migrate legally as kids are lucky. Lucky our parents had the means to do it, to navigate the process, afford it, and lucky to be able to wait patiently for papers. We know not everyone has those resources, information, money or time.

Having those resources is an accident of birth. We don’t choose where we are born, or who we are born to. So our privilege of being born with more opportunities than others is not an excuse to deny others the same privileges; it is actually the opposite. It demands from us that we help those who did are less fortunate.

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It is my moral duty to help Dreamers and it's your duty as well. Because we're either lucky to have been born here or lucky to have the papers — but we're lucky nonetheless. We did nothing to earn being American. We just were. And they are American as much as you or me, but the papers keep them out of the only home they know.

So today, I’d like to remind you of your duty to fight for them. Not because you are good or because you're charitable or because you don't like the president. But because it is your DUTY to help those who through no fault of their own were brought here.

Their lives depend on us. Evil triumphs when good people do nothing. And remember, it could have been you. I know it could have been me.

So call your legislators and tell them to protect the Dreamers. Then go and tell everyone you know to do the same, so those Dreamers can escape the nightmare and achieve their dreams.

Thania Sanchez is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

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