“There were so many times when being Undocumented seemed to close every door to achieving an education, pursuing a career, even serving in the military, but I kept finding ways to open these doors.”
Oscar V, 29, Ft. Worth, Texas, Born in Mexico
A former DREAMer, I have made my own dreams come true despite Congress’ failure to pass the Dream Act. Because I refused to give up, I overcame the many obstacles I faced to serve my country, pursue my education and career and, finally, become a citizen.
I came to Phoenix, Arizona from Mexico when I was 12 and found early success in the classroom. I excelled as a STEM student at Carl Hayden High School and led a group of under-resourced Hispanic students to a most unlikely first-place finish against an MIT team in an underwater-robotics competition (made into a documentary entitled “Underwater Dreams”). This accomplishment led to a college education in the STEM field, earning a B.S.E. in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University in May 2009 – graduating at the top of my class. I had earned a scholarship from ASU but it was taken from me when Arizona passed Proposition 300, denying me this scholarship due to my undocumented status. A private scholarship fund, the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, came to my aid and I worked construction to help cover gaps in financial assistance.
Once armed with a sought-after college degree, I was still lacking legal status, so I couldn’t get a good job to provide for my new wife, Karla, and young child, Samantha — both citizens. I wasn’t even allowed to join the Army, which was something I really wanted to do as a way to give back to the country I loved. I had found my high-school experience in ROTC to be most inspiring.
Since I had no real future with my undocumented status, I decided to risk everything, to self-deport, leaving my family behind to return to Mexico, knowing full well that applying for a visa could take 10 years. My wife and one-year-old daughter visited as often as possible, but my daughter didn’t recognize me at one point. It was heartbreaking watching her turn two and not being there for her. This could have gone on for years, but Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) interceded on my behalf and helped me get a waiver on the long wait and a green card in 2010, 361 days after I’d left the States. Six months later, I enlisted in the Army. When I finished basic training, I became a citizen and went on to serve one tour in Afghanistan, after earning an assignment as a Cavalry Scout in an Airborne unit based out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. I had wanted to become a paratrooper since watching Band of Brothers and now I had the chance to live out my dream.
As a U.S. Army Sergeant, I testified at Senator Durbin’s hearing examining the benefits of allowing young immigrants who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to be authorized to enlist in the military. I was also fortunate enough to be one of the First Lady’s guests at the 2016 State of the Union.
I now work for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railways as a business analyst in a web app development team. My wife and I have had our second child, Maximus, who was born two days after I came home from R&R in Afghanistan. I had less than two weeks with my new son before serving another five months far from my family. My time away from home in both Mexico and Afghanistan was hard but it really transformed our lives and made our future brighter.
I am fortunate to be succeeding at the American Dream. To show my gratitude, I give back to my community as an advocate for expanding STEM opportunities for Latinos and other under-represented youth.
Though I have been able to realize my potential, I know that there are millions of other undocumented young people struggling just to survive because of our broken immigration system. We immigrants have much to offer this nation and our dreams should not be put on hold while Congress fails to act. Our potential adds to the country’s strength and our unlimited possible contributions are too precious to waste.