The last time Nidya was in Nayarit, a state on the west coast of Mexico where she was born, she was just 2 years old. That’s when she moved with her parents to San Diego. Since then, she has thrived. She attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, and received a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from San Diego State University. Now she works full time helping domestic violence victims and is in the process of obtaining her professional counseling license.
Yet, at age 30, Nidya is still waiting for the right to apply for permanent residency so she can work legally, apply for a bank loan, and travel outside the country knowing she will be able to return to the only country she calls home. It’s a reality that seems particularly absurd given that she is the only undocumented immigrant in her family. Her brothers, who were born in the United States, were recently able to sponsor their parents for green cards, and they were eligible for government financial aid for college. “I was always having to cobble payments together and couldn’t ask my parents for help because they don’t make a lot as housekeepers,” she says.
Sometimes I feel like a prisoner. I don’t even remember living in Mexico. I only know my family from talking on the phone. Where am I supposed to go?
For now, Nidya is one of more than 316,000 California immigrants eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 policy that allows qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to defer deportation for renewable two-year periods and to work legally in the United States. But since President Donald Trump announced in September 2017 that the administration would phase out DACA by March 2018 unless Congress takes action, Nidya feels vulnerable to the possibility she could be deported. “Sometimes I feel like a prisoner,” she says. “I don’t even remember living in Mexico. I only know my family from talking on the phone. Where am I supposed to go?”
Nidya is also unsure about what to do in the near future. She is hesitant to invest in a house or plan her wedding, and she is terrified about what could happen to her baby son were she to be arrested. If DACA is dismantled, Nidya could also be out of a job, something that would constitute not only a blow to her family but also to the community that she serves. Nidya provides mental healthcare, a field that is growing critically short of the professionals needed to serve the American public. In any given year, an estimated one in five Americans experiences a mental health issue, yet millions go without care.
“If DACA is taken away, I won’t be able to get my license and I won’t be able to practice,” Nidya says, adding that immigration reform is long overdue to give undocumented immigrants a real path to legal status. “I’ve had to deal with this uncertainly my entire life, and I’m so tired of having to be scared all the time. When it is supposed to end?”