My name is Ray Jose, and I'm originally from the Philippines. My family and I migrated to the United States in 2000 when I was 9 years old because my mother and father believed that my sister and I would have opportunities here that would not be available to us in the Philippines. When we came to the U.S., we lived in Tampa, Fla., then three years later we moved to Rockville, Md., and have been there ever since.
I grew up calling this place home and becoming accustomed to the culture and practices. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that this idea was shattered. It was then I realized that I was not acknowledged as someone who is supposed to be in this country. I found out that my family and I were undocumented.
I came home from an invitational track meet, where I was offered scholarships to several schools. I was excited to tell my parents that this would not be another financial burden that would be placed on their shoulders. But when I shared the news, my mother broke down crying and said in Tagalog, "Anak pagbigyan mo ako." (My child, please forgive me). She began to explain that we had overstayed our tourist visas, and it left my whole family undocumented. That ultimately meant that any of my hopes and dreams would be that much harder to reach—including accepting scholarships to attend school.
Life before DACA meant that I would take any job that would be willing to pay me "under the table." I took any job, from landscaping to washing dishes, because I knew that I had to help my family make ends meet, while I attended community college. Most of these jobs paid me under minimum wage, and I was susceptible to wage theft and was usually taken advantage of by my employers, because they knew that my family relied on me to bring in money.
In 2012 when I heard about DACA, I began preparing whatever I might need. I wanted to get a better-paying job to help my family and so my sister and I could attend college again. Fortunately, when my DACA application was approved, I was given the opportunity to do something that I loved and that helped me sustain my family. United We Dream—a national youth led immigrant rights organization—gave me the chance to serve my community as an organizer. This experience brought so many learning moments not only as an organizer but also as a person; United We Dream also became my chosen family and still is.
Although I am thankful for what we have won, I know that it is not enough. DACA and the newly expanded immigration executive actions do not cover all of our community. People like my mother and father are still not eligible for any kind of relief, and by excluding them in his announcement, President Obama frames them as the undeserving immigrants in this country, and pundits continue to divide communities. The executive actions also do not address root problems, such as for profit prisons and the reasons people are displaced from their home countries. There is a long fight ahead, but I know that DACA is a privilege that has allowed me to continue to advocate for the dignity that people—like my parents—deserve.