Lizzette Arias

Lizette AriasWhen I started my first unpaid internship, my boss asked me for a Social Security number because they wanted to pay me a lunch stipend. It was a nice gesture on their behalf; however, that request left me in a cold sweat. After five seconds of hesitation, I decided not to come clean and gave them my Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) instead. For the next week, anytime the phone rang, my heart rate accelerated and my muscles tensed up because I feared the accountant had figured out that the ITIN I gave was not a Social Security number. Today what I most vividly remember from my first Washington, D.C., internship is that fear and shame.

On June 15, 2012 those feelings of fear and shame dissipated. After I heard the premise of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, it took me some time to wrap my head around all the newly opened opportunities. Even though I graduated at the top of my high school class, and was accepted to the top universities, getting a college education was a miracle because of my immigration status.

I attended Moravian College and majored in history and sociology, with a concentration in law and society. When I graduated in 2011, as an undocumented person I could not utilize my degree without work authorization, so I forced myself to forget my degree because it made me feel worthless and frustrated. Consequently, throughout the day of the DACA announcement, I needed to constantly remind myself that I would not only be safe to stay in the country but that I could actually begin a career.

DACA allowed me to begin. First I began to apply to jobs, then I began to work, and then I began to aspire for more. When my parents and I left Bolivia when I was still a baby, I embarked on a journey to live the American dream. Growing up in Virginia and witnessing my parents' determination to rise above their circumstances instilled in me an indefatigable motivation to seek greatness. However, through the obstacle-filled college application process, and constant fear of deportation, that motivation had become weak.

DACA pushed me to allow myself to dream, and dream big, once again. Earning my degree in history and sociology developed my strong writing skills, creative thinking and problem solving capabilities, and now I can use them to build my career. But most importantly, thanks to DACA, I am not afraid of succeeding in vain anymore.