This week Drop the I-Word is featuring daily “I Am…” stories in honor of Coming Out of the Shadows Week and in collaboration with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Today’s story comes from college student Him Ranjit, a young man from Texas who continues to dream, despite the many roadblocks he’s encountered in our country’s broken immigration system. Ranjit and his mother joined his father in this country after he’d been here a few years, so that their family could be together. Their visas were not extended and they were not put on a path to becoming citizens, instead, they were called “illegal.”
When we take humanity and basic rights out of the equation, the result is a broken immigration system that shows cracks in our society’s shared values. Do some families have the right to be together more than others? Many are quick to say, “Get in the back of the line.” But what if that line is 20 years long? Or what if it just does not exist? When families are cast as criminals, it’s even harder to get to solutions that can match our regard for humanity and dignity.
Ranjit puts it well, “Media and government have a great influence on the culture and the politics of the country. The media and the government should stop using the i-word to show that they do not share the values of anti-immigrant proponents, but stand with justice and equality for all.”
For the “I Am…” storytelling project, people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language about immigrants. Stories are gathered in collaboration with our campaign partners. We are grateful to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and DreamActivist.org for connecting us with Ranjit.
My name is Him Ranjit and I am undocumented.
I am originally from Nepal. My dad came to the U.S. in 1996 to study and to work to support his family, including extended family. My mom and I migrated here when I was 10, in 2001, to reunite as a family. We came here on a travel visa to visit my dad, but we ended up staying with an expired visa. After my visa expired, my family was classified as being “illegal.” The first time I heard the term was when I became aware of my status. The derogatory term “illegal” has been used to describe me on numerous occasions, though I am American by heart and undocumented because of my status. Overall, my family and community have been pretty supportive of me being open about my status and taking up the immigrant rights cause, even though they were hesitant in the beginning. We’re fighting for our lives and we won’t stop until we win.
I grew up in Euless, Texas, a city between Dallas and Fort Worth. The community I grew up in was very diverse and accepting of different cultures. I grew up in this country envisioning a great future as an American. But on the path to my dreams, I have found roadblocks everywhere I go due to the broken immigration system. From trying to get into a university to getting a drivers license to working part-time to pay for school, I’ve had to go through obstacles because of my status over things that some consider commonplace.
I am a future engineer studying Biomedical Engineering and Government at University of Texas, Austin. I am an active student here in the UT community, involved in University Leadership Initiative, getting people out to vote and being involved in sports and other activities. I am, by any means, like many UT Austin sophomore students: I study till late at night, work out in Gregory Gym, go to the football games, stand in the long lines at Wendy’s and sometimes nap on the couches of the Texas Union in between classes. I am very much like everybody in this university, except for a nine-digit number to identify me.
The roadblocks aren’t just structural. It’s hard being an undocumented student in the midst of American peers, to come out and explain one’s situation. Language like “illegals” makes it even harder because of the misleading information and stigma attached to the term. Demonizing the immigrant community as criminals is simply an anti-immigrant tool. We have all heard this language used to push legislation to shut down the border, create fear in the immigrant population and promote the ridiculous idea of rewriting the 14 Amendment.
It also creates a toxic environment in which children receive the message that their own lives are not valued as equal to the lives of their peers. Media and government have a great influence on the culture and the politics of the country. The media and the government should stop using the i-word to show that they do not share the values of anti-immigrant proponents, but stand with justice and equality for all.