Much of the nation is fixated on the immigration debate, but for people with undocumented immigration status, the issue is more than a talking point on the news. Ariel Rodriguez arrived in the United States with his family at the age of 15. Last month—after a decade in the U.S.—he returned to Mexico, spurred by the actions and rhetoric of President Donald Trump. He wrote about that decision for The Washington Post in an essay posted yesterday (January 25).
The decision to leave for Mexico City was difficult. My family and I made it as a group. We began discussing it after President Trump was elected—based in no small part on his negative rhetoric about undocumented people. We also began hearing sad stories about people being apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, sometimes separating children who were full U.S. citizens from parents. Trump seemed to have little mercy for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which I did not qualify for by a matter of days anyway. Ultimately, my parents and two older brothers agreed. We would leave the United States once I finished my education at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
That education came at a high cost. Ninety percent of my income went toward tuition. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal financial aid. I found myself busing and waiting tables in small local restaurants where background checks were not a priority. After very full days, I would come home late at night to work on the homework due the next day. Despite the financial stress and workload, however, school was the only place I felt normal. I was treated just like an American there, even though English wasn’t my native language. No one questioned whether I held a green card. I was rewarded for my hard work.
But this semester, while my classmates discussed employment offers and long-range career plans, I was researching safe routes to Mexico. I was reminded daily that I did not belong—reminded by the news, reminded by Trump supporters chanting about the wall, reminded by the president himself. Despite what I knew I could offer this country, despite knowing more American than Mexican history, despite my love for America, I felt unwanted.
Rodriguez goes on to write about how—despite having worked so hard to earn a journalism degree—without a social security number, he can only work jobs “that ordinary Americans don’t want: housekeeping, landscaping, field work.” He closes with a lament for what could have been:
I left behind great friends. I left behind most of my belongings. I left behind my illusions of ever becoming a U.S. citizen. I take with me the fond memories of the college that gave me my education. I carry no grudges. The way I see it, this loss is mutual: I lost the chance to have a life in America. America lost the chance to have me.
Read the full essay over at The Washington Post.