Ainee Athar

Ainee AtharMy name is Ainee Athar. I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but my family and I have lived in Texas since I was 2 years old. My aunt arranged for me and my mother to come to the U.S. on a medical visa in 1993, as I had been diagnosed with leukemia and my family wanted the best medical attention for me. I received treatment and recovered in the U.S., but my cancer returned when I was 4. As a result, my family felt it was best we stay in the U.S. so that I could receive another round of treatment.

Fortunately, my father and sister were able to join us as a company offered to sponsor him for an employment visa in the U.S. The sponsoring company filed the application for my father, and our family was listed as beneficiaries. The application was pending when 9/11 happened, which caused major delays in several immigration cases. Subsequently, my father's employment visa was denied under new restrictions and quotas for H1B applicants.

Ahmadi Muslims have been historically persecuted in Pakistan, so as Ahmadi Muslims we decided to apply for asylum. Unfortunately, our case was denied and believing the odds were in our favor for a successful appeal, my family decided to stay and appeal the decision. Unbeknownst to us, however, our lawyer had not filed the appeal and a removal order had been issued.

In November 2010 during my sophomore year at University of Texas-Austin, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers came to our home, raided it and detained my parents. They were held for a month, and when they were released from the detention center, they were required to wear ankle bracelets for six months. Meanwhile, my sister and I were monitored through ICE's Intensive Supervision Appearance Program via random automated calls, which would prompt immigration officers to call inquiring about our whereabouts if we did not pick up after three rings. My parents were eventually granted deferred action, which allows them to remain in the U.S. temporarily. They are required to renew it each year—frighteningly, it can be revoked at anytime—and to check-in with ICE every six months.

I applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in April 2013, one month before graduation, and received it in December 2013. My DACA status has afforded me more independence, in that I can work, get a driver's license and I no longer fear being deported. I can also utilize my political science degree to work with—an organization mobilizing the tech industry to advocate for immigration reform. Those without DACA cannot use their degree to seek employment. I am incredibly grateful for my DACA status, but the fear of deportation has not left me as my parents can still be deported at anytime. There is no pathway to legal status for many undocumented immigrants; they are victims of an outdated system. This is my drive to continue advocating for a permanent solution, so my family and countless others can receive permanent relief.