My family and I migrated from Panama to Silver Spring, Md., when I was 13. Like a lot of immigrants from across the globe, my parents brought me to this country in search of the American dream.
We came because my parents wanted me to have the opportunity to go to college, work hard and create a better future for my family. We came on a tourist visa, but when it was time to adjust our status to permanent residents, my parents received erroneous legal advice from questionable attorneys, which led us to become undocumented.
I excelled in high school and went from taking ESOL classes to graduating with several AP and college level courses, a 3.8 GPA and over 1,000 community service learning hours. I gained admissions to several universities in the area, but due to my undocumented status, I couldn't afford any of them.
Luckily I was a part of Liberty's Promise, an after-school civics and citizenship program for immigrant students. Liberty's Promise guided me through the college application process and encouraged me to apply to the Montgomery Scholars Honors program at Montgomery College. It is a rigorous, competitive academic program that includes a full tuition scholarship. If it weren't for the scholars program and Montgomery College, I wouldn't have been able to pursue my dream of higher education. Due to my gratitude to Montgomery College, I applied to serve, and was appointed by the governor, to the Montgomery College Board of Trustees as the student member.
After graduation, I was in the same situation: being the proud son of a low-income, undocumented immigrant family and wanting to continue pursuing higher education that I couldn't afford. Luckily, I was admitted to Goucher College with a substantial institutional financial aid package. At that time, before the Maryland Dream Act was enacted into law, attending Goucher with private aid was more affordable than attending a public institution.
In many ways, I was granted DACA status at the most crucial time in my academic journey. I was a second semester junior starting to worry about what was going to happen after all of my private scholarships ran out. Additionally, because I couldn't work legally in the country prior to DACA, finding jobs that would enable me to pay for school was extremely difficult. When I was granted DACA in March 2013, I immediately started working for a small business, Respira, managing their community engagement programs in Baltimore. I was now able to work full time to help pay my tuition and graduate on time.
One of the caveats of attending Goucher is that it's one of the only schools in the country that requires students to study abroad before they graduate—a requirement that is difficult for undocumented students to meet. However, through DACA, I was able to study environmental sustainability in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Leaving the country and coming back was an incredible opportunity because it was the first time I traveled internationally since coming with my family from Panama.
Prior to DACA, I had a restricted view of what was possible for me to do in the future. Within a year of being DACAmented I was able to travel abroad and work in the office of the governor of Maryland as the administrator of the Governor's Commissions on Hispanic and Caribbean Affairs. DACA has afforded me many opportunities, of which my proudest is being able to represent my communities in the governor's office and to advocate for policies and programs that made our state more inclusive.