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Letter to the Editor: Congress, please pass The Dream Act

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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Coming out of high school, my undocumented status prevented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Since 2012, I’ve been able to live and work here legally, but that will soon change unless Congress passes legislation like the Dream Act.

My story, and dream, illustrates why Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr should pass a permanent solution for Dreamers before year’s end.

Knowing I was in danger in our home country of Honduras, a family member brought me to the United States at the age of 9. I’m sure she knew crossing the border illegally was wrong, but when the choice is between life or near certain death of a child you love, surely most adults would do the same.

Already fluent in English, I excelled in school and joined the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFJROTC) at Southern Nash High School in Bailey.

The AFJROTC gave me a sense of purpose. Finally. I was part of something larger than myself, and the skills I was learning would help me give back to my adopted community. The AFJROTC taught me that not only was I safe in this country, I could help protect this country.

Like any other American high schooler, I began to think about what came next. I learned some colleges would accept me despite my immigration status, but I also learned I wouldn’t qualify for certain scholarships, such as an Air Force scholarship available at a nearby university. That door was shut because I was undocumented.

I was crushed, but I didn’t give up. I spoke to recruiters from different branches of the military, desperately looking for a way to join. Despite receiving several honors in AFJROTC, including Student of the Year, North Carolina Scholars, and ROTC Honors, I learned that closed door was actually a wall. I couldn’t serve.

Thankfully, I got a merit scholarship to N.C. Wesleyan College, which allowed me to continue my education. Participating in Wesleyan’s Army ROTC program, I was able to momentarily forget all of my obstacles, but I was faced with reality once again when an instructor asked if I was serious about joining the military.

I explained that despite my serious interest, I was ineligible due to my lack of legal status. Being at a college level ROTC program meant even more opportunities I would miss out on. I felt like an outsider — most cadets in the program were already in the military. Although I was offered to remain in the program for an additional year while I figured out how to fix my status, I simply couldn’t afford the tuition.

Five years ago, I applied for a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allowed temporary legal status to undocumented individuals who’d been brought here when they were young, through no fault of their own, if we were working or in school.

I continued to reach out to recruiters, but at this point the laws had changed so much that even with DACA I was unable to join. I once again faced a wall.

However, the program enabled me to get better jobs, and I am now employed as a paralegal at a Raleigh law firm. While I still could not serve in the military, DACA allowed me to contribute to my community. Without the fear of deportation, I’ve been able to give back to my community, our veterans, children in low income areas, and domestic violence victims. Further, I am pursuing a degree in psychology in order to serve our veterans, specifically those with PTSD.

I applied for DACA for the same reason I joined AFJROTC, to give back to the country that gave me safety and opportunity.

I don’t want to stay in this country for self-gain, or because it provides an easier life than in my homeland. I want to stay because I love this country, and I’m thankful I was brought here.

If Congress passes a bill like the Dream Act that allows me to apply for permanent legal status, I’ll happily continue paying taxes. I’ll submit to background checks and will commit to staying employed and off public assistance.

I’ll also return to my dream of serving in the military. I want to help make America even greater than it is. That’s why I ask our members of Congress to pass this legislation before the December recess.

Michelle Valladerez

Raleigh

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