In late 2001, 4-year-old “Erin” was living in Athens with her parents and three brothers, in an apartment above the family’s store. She knew that her brother and father had traveled back and forth to the United States a few times, but when her parents made the decision that the entire family would go together and stay permanently, she was very nervous. “I didn’t know the language or what it was like on the other side of the world, but at the same time I was excited to see new things,” says Erin, who today is a 20-year-old woman and recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the President announced last week will be terminated.
Erin still doesn’t know exactly what her parents discussed when they made plans for the family to move permanently to the United States. She remembers that they all arrived together by airplane on December 14, 2001, with visitor visas, which usually permit holders to stay for 6 months.
One of her first memories in the United States was her father taking the family to Brookfield Zoo, in Brookfield, Illinois. “I remember it being cold, and I saw a lot of people that would stare at me because I didn’t speak English,” remembers Erin. Having grown up in the U.S. for the last 16 years, Erin is now as fluent in English as any other young American adult.
Until last year, when her DACA status was granted by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Erin was undocumented, because the family had overstayed their visitor visas. “My life since I've arrived [in the United States] has been a couple of rough patches and good patches,” Erin says. “Rough due to the fact that we didn't have papers so working was hard, but good because my parents still managed to support us and still found work to give us a better life.”
Erin says the DACA program changed her life because she got a work permit, a social security number, and a driver’s license, enabling her to get a job and start college. “The DACA program taught me that I don't need my parents to work for me, and that I can work myself and support myself,” says Erin. She can now drive herself where she needs to go, and was able to pay for a car to get herself from work to school so she can better and further her life.
When asked what it feels like now that the President has decided to take the DACA program away, Erin says, “I feel like my life is going to drastically change back to how it used to be, where I'm going to have to stop school and work full time so that I can pay to shelter myself and feed myself, and life is going to be very hard trying to find ways to work.”
*Erin's story is the first in a new series of immigrant stories ,about people from a wide variety of places and situations. The people, not statistics, tell the story of immigration in the United States today. Check back often and subscribe, to read future stories.