21-year old Raymond Partolan is the Outreach Coordinator at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Atlanta. Read about the pivotal role DACA played in his life.
How old were you when you were brought to the United States?
1 year and 3 months old
How has being undocumented affected your childhood and teenage years?
I came lawfully to the United States, from the Philippines, with a visa in 1994. In 2003, my family’s visas expired and our lives changed forever. Being undocumented was the single most jarring characteristic of my childhood and teenage years. It placed me in a state of limbo, in which I felt estranged and distant from my citizen peers because of my immigration status, but also the same because I grew up in the exact same place and in the same conditions. I did not fully understand, at first, what it meant to be undocumented. My parents told me that I was an “illegal alien” and we would have to be “TNT,” which is an acronym for the tagalog phrase, “Tago Ng Tago,” which refers to an undocumented immigrant who is in hiding. They warned me not to tell anyone about our immigration status or risk being sent back to the country I knew nothing about after having left at such a young age. For the most part, I obliged, except one very minor instance in the fifth grade when I told a friend I was an “illegal alien,” to which my friend responded with disbelief.
Years passed and my friends started getting their driver’s licenses and getting jobs. It was then when I first started to truly realize how much being undocumented would affect me. I pouted and cried, wondering why the world was so unfair to me. I felt completely alone. I felt that I had no one with which to share the source of my intense feelings of anxiety within. After finally drumming up the courage to tell someone about my status, the person I told reacted with seeming indifference. I was devastated.
My junior year of high school, I tried to kill myself. I felt that it was the only relief I had from a seemingly uncaring and unfair world. As I lay on my bathroom floor after having swallowed an unhealthy amount of Tylenol, I rose up, realizing the gravity of what I had just attempted. From that moment on, I have vowed never to try something so final and so absolute and pledged to devote my life to helping change our broken immigration system.
As I approached high school graduation, I knew that the prospect of college would be very difficult for me because of my immigration status. It is for this reason that I applied to 14 different colleges and universities — all private — because I knew that they would be willing to provide institutional aid to an undocumented student like me. Thankfully, I was awarded a full tuition scholarship at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
Honestly, my immigration status has compelled me to work my hardest and to devote all of myself to everything that I do. It is the cornerstone of the work ethic with which I approach every endeavor. My biggest passion is the cause of immigration reform and I will do everything in y power to help bring it about.
When DACA was first announced in 2012, what was your initial reaction?
I was, at first, skeptical. My family had warned me, from a young age, about coming forward with my immigration status. It also seemed too good to be true. For the first time in almost a decade, I would be able to come out of the shadows, proclaiming my presence to the world and asserting my sense of belonging in the United States of America. I waited a few months to apply for the program, watching first to see if others would benefit from me. My family decided that it would be best for us to ensure the legitimacy of the program.
When did you apply for DACA?
November of 2012, just a few months after the application became available.
What role, if any, has DACA played in helping you achieved your personal, professional and academic goals?
DACA has, first and foremost, allowed me to become more confident in my ability to speak for tens of thousands of undocumented youth who need our lawmakers to enact fair and just immigration policies. Since I was approved for the program, I have advocated, tirelessly, for the importance of access to higher education for undocumented students, and for immigration reform as a whole.
Being able to drive and work legally has allowed me to focus less on avoiding detection as an undocumented immigrant and more on my academic and professional growth.
What will the availability of DAPA, or other possible administrative reforms, mean for you and your family?
Both of my parents qualify for DAPA, which means that, finally, they too will be able to come out of the shadows. They will be able to drive and work legally. The two of them will be able to come forward as examples of hard-working, dedicated individuals who want nothing but to contribute to American society.
What has been the most rewarding and challenging aspect of this experience of applying for and receiving DACA?
The most rewarding part has definitely been benefitting from the program. This program has truly changed my life. Without it, I may not have the confidence that I do today in advocating for my fellow undocumented peers. The most challenging aspect of applying for DACA was waiting for a few months before submitting my own application. My family wanted to make sure that the program was not a ploy by the government to have undocumented people come forward just to round them up, arrest them, and deport them.
What would you say to those who may be afraid to apply for expanded DACA this February or DAPA in May?
Be brave. Although it may be difficult at first to have the courage to come out of the shadows and declare your presence in the United States, I promise that the end result will be wonderful. You will begin to feel somewhat of a sense of belonging and will be provided with the necessary tools to provide for your family — the ability to drive and work legally in the United States. On a more abstract note, as a potential beneficiary of this program, you have a duty to your fellow undocumented community to be the best that you can be so that you can show our citizen peers that we too can be active and contributing members of American society.