Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

The Cruelest Decision

Jennifer was preparing to take an accounting exam when she saw a report on the business center’s television that would change her life.

Jennifer, who is being identified by her first name because of concerns for her family’s safety, is a senior and accounting major at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her mother brought her to the United States from Honduras when she was 7 years old. Her mother had left to find work in America when Jennifer was 3 years old.

“I just knew that I was finally going to be with my mom,” she said.

A bright and studious kid, she adjusted and did well in school in Ballwin, Missouri. In her sophomore year of high school, she asked her mother for her social security number so she could apply for an internship. Her mother told her she didn’t have legal papers; she was undocumented.

“That’s when I found out I was very limited in what I could do. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t work legally,” Jennifer said.

All of a sudden, the country she had grown up in wasn’t hers anymore. The place she knew as her home, where she had dreams to go to college, became a place she had to hide who she was. She couldn’t even tell her closest friends.

The next year, President Barack Obama signed DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) into law after waiting for Congress to act on behalf of young children who had been brought to and raised in America without legal documents. What is a small child supposed to do when their parent moves them to another country? How do you tear a young person away from their family and home to deport them to a country where they have no connections, no family and may not even speak the language? Especially if they weren’t even responsible for coming here illegally in the first place?

Jennifer immediately filed for the legal protection DACA offered. She gave all her information, paid the fee and passed a background check. Even though there was no path to becoming a citizen, it allowed her to stay, study and work here legally. It had to be renewed every two years. It gave her a measure of her dignity back.

“I was no longer hiding a part of myself,” she said.

Jennifer graduated from high school and got accepted into the Honors College at UMSL. She works two jobs to help pay for her education. She will be graduating in May and planned to attend networking events with accounting firms to find a job.

Then she saw the news that President Donald Trump had rescinded DACA, effective in six months. Trump has asked Congress to handle the issue. If they are unable to pass legislation, students like Jennifer face deportation by the federal agencies they gave their personal information and fingerprints to in good faith.

Even though she had prepared herself, she was still in shock when she watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions make the announcement. For a second, she felt a flash of anger and resentment toward her mother. Why put her in this situation?

Immediately, she let it go.

“I’m not a mother. I can only imagine the struggle she went through,” she said. “It wasn’t the best decision, but it was the only option she had at that point. I can’t blame her for being a mother and wanting to protect me and for wanting to give me a better future. I can’t blame her for that.”

She had to pull herself together and take her accounting exam.

“I’m just scared,” she said. There are months ahead of just waiting while her entire future, all her hard work, hangs in the balance.

Even worse than the fear of losing her future is the pain of feeling like she isn’t wanted in the country she loves and considers her home.

“I’ve never in my life felt like I was less than a person,” she said. “Now, it’s like I’m not worth staying here.”

After she finished her exam, she drove back home to Ballwin.

Then she cried.