Home Is Here, and We’re Here to Stay (The Torch)

We are home. Always have been. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

OCTOBER 25, 2019

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three consolidated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases. But it will be doing more than that. Its deliberation, on any scale, is a debate over whether I and hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youth belong in this country. It is about whether the only country we call home is our home. I’m here to tell you that it is. Home is here.

I’ve been in the United States since I was three. I grew up in Ohio, Georgia, and South Carolina. All these places have been home, yet it wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that I finally felt like this country wanted me — despite the many years I’ve spent loving it. When DACA became available in 2012, it changed my life. DACA was the answered prayer that allowed me to get the college education I so desperately wanted.

Diana Pliego speaks at the Home Is Here campaign launch press conference, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In South Carolina, undocumented students are explicitly barred from attending public colleges and universities. I clearly remember deciding, while sitting in my high school counselor’s office, to tell her the real reason I wasn’t planning to go to college. I broke down in tears because I’d never actually told anyone outside of my family about my immigration status.

My counselor made it her mission to help me get into college. Ultimately, I was accepted into a private school that welcomed me with a full-tuition scholarship. Tuition was just the first hurdle. Room and board were another, but my parents promised to move mountains to clear it. And together they did.

By the end of the summer, we were making just enough money to make my college dreams come true. Then my mom’s company went under. Just three days before move-in day, the rug was pulled out from under me. It felt like my future had collapsed before it even started.

Miraculously, my admissions counselor was able to find just enough additional scholarship money so I could start school. By the end of my first semester, I was finally able to apply for DACA. My parents skipped a car payment to afford the then $465 application fee. With DACA, and my pastor as my cosigner, I was able to get a student loan that came in just in time to make the payment that would allow me to go back to school the following year. With DACA, my brothers and I began working. Thanks to DACA and my family, I graduated from college.

The protection from deportation DACA affords eased some of the constant fear I felt about my safety. It allowed my siblings and me to work and contribute to our household. It allowed us to get jobs and have experiences we otherwise would never have had. It allowed us to give back to the country we call home. It changed our lives and served as the long-awaited recognition that, for us, this is home.

On September 5, 2017, when the Trump administration tried to terminate DACA, another rug was pulled out from under me, and again it felt like my future was being taken from me. I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that knows this is my home and is fighting back on every front to ensure immigrant youth are protected. My NILC family has taken Trump to the courts to challenge his unlawful termination of DACA, because my life and future, and those of so many others, hang in the balance.

We know the importance of fighting back, and we know this is part of a larger fight. Trump’s attack on DACA is a clear part of his administration’s broader plan to target nonwhite immigrants in an attempt to basically redefine who we are as a country. And because the administration hasn’t been successful in getting Congress to approve Stephen Miller’s white-supremacist, anti-immigrant policy wish list, it has tried time and again to leverage our livelihoods — and pain — to force Congress into passing its racist agenda.

Trump’s latest tweets couldn’t spell it out any clearer. His administration wants to take away our protections so it can turn around and use us as bargaining chips — again. There is no “heart” involved in these actions. They are a purely racist and cruel way of getting more cruel and racist policies in place to shape the U.S. into the whiter country Trump and Miller long for.

But we won’t let them. We’ll put up the fight of our lives, and we’ll not allow them to define who we are. To every person who has at some time been told to “go home” because of the color of our skin, know this: You are home. Always have been. Always will be. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

Diana Pliego is a NILC policy associate and a DACA recipient.