DACA: I’m undocumented and I am part of what makes America great.

In Los Angeles, on Sept. 4, 2017.

Dear President Trump:.

My name is Karlita and I’m an undocumented immigrant, or so people say.

Because of this, it might surprise you to hear that you’ve actually inspired me.

Before your campaign, I tried to ignore my status, or lack thereof. “Blend in, pretend it doesn’t exist,” I would tell myself. I know it’s shocking for some to realize, but being undocumented has its downsides, including the constant fear that one day I’ll be taken from everyone I love and all that I’ve worked for. Even though I wasn’t born in the United States, I’ve lived in Knoxville for as long as I can remember. My memories are here. Everything I love is here. If I could fix my status, I would. But I can’t. So instead of living in fear I tried to ignore my status, distract myself, pretend I’m not who I am, take hiatuses from being illegal. But that never really worked.

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Now, since your election, I’ve realized that I can no longer be quiet. You’ve inspired me to get involved in immigrant rights, which has had a domino effect on my life. I’ve said and done things that I never imagined: I’ve spoken about my status in front of hundreds of people; I’ve lobbied the Tennessee legislature for tuition equality; I’ve gotten involved. I’ve grown as a person.

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I’m stronger now. I’m not scared. But I am angry. I’ve been angry since the day you announced your candidacy by scapegoating people like me and my family. I’m even angrier now that DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — is in trouble and the futures of people like me are uncertain. (An executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012 created DACA as a special consideration for people who came here as children and are living in the country unauthorized, offering them temporary safety from deportation and a work permit.).

I’ve spent my entire life doing things the right way, believing in this country, its people, the system. I’ve spent my entire life believing that, no matter what, this country always does the right thing.

But I can’t be quiet any more, and so I have something to tell you:.

I am not leaving. I have paid taxes and contributed to this country for years. I am part of the fabric of this country. I am helping to build this country. I persevere despite the burden of being undocumented. I keep going despite the stigma and misinformation about undocumented people.

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Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to shake the stigma. In these times, my dad reminds me that we aren’t illegal. What’s illegal when we all come from the stars? We are all stardust. I think of all of the undocumented people in my life and around the country. We soar.

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We are America and we are the future. We are your neighbors, friends, and coworkers, and we are here. We love this country.

I’m not writing this letter to make you like me, to convince you that I deserve to stay, or to tell you how much I pay in taxes (and I do pay a lot in taxes). I am writing to tell you that I am a Knoxvillian, a Tennessean and an American. I am part of what makes America great.

I’m sorry you don’t like that, but I’m not here to coddle you. I will not be your political scapegoat.

If I’ve learned anything from American history, I’ve learned that no good American has had it easy. If I’ve learned anything from this country, it’s to not give up. When things get tough, Americans get angry enough to make a change.

I’m not going away, and I’m not giving up.

Karlita Cruz has lived in Knoxville for nearly 20 years.

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