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Rosa’s Story: An Advocate’s Journey

“My name is Rosa, and I received a check from you within only days of my request. You understand that this issue is incredibly time sensitive, and you did not neglect nor treat me as just a number. As a DACA recipient, this is something I have grown accustomed to, being treated as a number. I am one of 800,000. But through your act of kindness and sense of purpose for something greater than yourself, you demonstrated to me that I am more than a number. I am a person, I am a student, I am a friend.”

We first met Rosa in September 2017. She was a recipient of MAF’s DACA fee assistance grant, and she sent us this message just a few weeks after our campaign began. Her words stayed with us, particularly this line — I am more than a number. I am a person, I am a student, I am a friend.

Rosa’s immigration story challenges one dimensional narratives about undocumented immigrant communities in the U.S.

Rosa’s family moved from South Korea to Canada at age three. Just as her family made their second move from Canada to the United States, they were granted Canadian citizenship. By then, they had settled in Temecula, California. As a high schooler in Southern California, Rosa began to understand the limitations that her immigration status placed on her.

“The first time I realized how this whole system affected me was in high school. All my friends were getting jobs, getting a license, and my mom told me that I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have a social security number.”

During her junior year of high school, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced. Her family heard about DACA from their church community, and she rushed to apply.

In early 2014, she received notice that her DACA application had been approved. Very soon after, she hit a number of teenage milestones, like getting her driver’s license and finding her first job. Eventually, she received her acceptance letter to the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

At UCSD, Rosa grew into her voice as an advocate for the immigrant community.

While in school, Rosa connected with a larger community of DACA recipients and allies and realized that she was not alone in her experiences. As a Political Science major, she learned about a number of useful frameworks and tools — specifically, an understanding of the the political process — that shaped her identity as an advocate. One class in particular, an American politics class, taught Rosa about the long term effects of institutional aggressions like gerrymandering and redlining, and how these policies could have crippling long term effects on communities for generations.

During her third year at UCSD, the Trump administration announced its decision to rescind DACA. The rescission created a lot of chaos, anger, and frustration, but Rosa was also inspired and energized by the overwhelming number of organizations that supported her as she rushed to submit her DACA renewal application. In particular, the Undocumented Student Center at UCSD played a critical role in ensuring that she always knew what next steps to take. In fact, the Undocumented Student Center connected her to a number of other resources, including Mission Asset Fund’s DACA fee assistance grant.

“I’m so used to anything having to do with immigration taking forever – waiting, not knowing, etc. Throughout this process, everyone came together so quickly — the immigration lawyer, the director of the UC Immigration Center, Mission Asset Fund — because they understood the urgency of the situation. These organizations realized the urgency even before I did.”

After graduating from UCSD in 2018, the Council of Korean Americans sponsored a work opportunity for Rosa in the public service sector. She met with the first Korean American congressman in New York and asked him ‘what concrete steps are you taking to protect Dreamers?’ At first, he danced around the subject and failed to provide a firm answer. Ultimately, the congressman said this: politicians don’t want to invest in DACA recipients because they can’t vote, and the ultimate goal of politicians is to increase their constituencies.

“That’s the reality of it. I realized that Dreamers need to be speaking out about their stories in order for Citizens to care and vote.”

Rosa understands the frustrating realities of being an advocate without the ability to vote. This is exactly why Rosa has so admirably shared her own story with us.

“The most powerful way to convey my message is to show people who I am.”

Throughout the years, Rosa’s friends have played an important role in her life. Those who know her best know her as a neighbor, a childhood friend, and a fellow dancer. Lately, her friends have seen her navigate a lot of uncertainty, and she has used this opportunity to bring them into the conversation about how they can support her and others who are facing similar situations.

“I recently opened up to my friends about my feelings with the midterm elections and my fears for my future. I received a great deal of responsiveness and love from my friends, and they promised to vote in the midterm elections when they normally wouldn’t have.”

Rosa’s story offers many valuable insights. Her story allows us to reflect on what tools we can each use to advocate for policies that uplift immigrant communities. Her story warns us to remain cautious and critical of communicating one dimensional narratives about communities. Her story also highlights a well known fact — that immigrant communities thrive even within oppressive limits.

“It’s this double-edged sword because I am able to live this ‘normal’ life’. Yes, I have access to certain opportunities, but there’s a lot that I can’t do. I can’t leave the country. I can’t see my family for the holidays. I can’t guarantee that I’ll still be here in three years. I can’t plan my future. I can’t solidify my career. I can’t keep my options narrow. These are much broader limitations that people don’t necessarily realize.”

Rosa plans to continue building her voice as an advocate by pursuing an education in public interest law. Her own experiences have shed light on the importance of the law and the ways in which the law can be applied to either help or hurt people.

“I want to be able to use the law to help the disenfranchised, just as the law has at times done for me.”

During our conversation with Rosa, we asked her what messages she wanted to convey to both Citizens and the DACA community.

To Citizens:

“I want them to know that there’s probably one Dreamer out there that they know personally, but who may be too afraid to come out of the shadows because of the current political climate. This is where citizens can verbally speak out and show their support for Dreamers.”

To the DACA community:

“Regardless of how scary the situation may seem, we are still lucky. We have an EAD {employment authorization document} and a social security number, so we should be using that to the best of our potential. We should use these tools not just to fit in with the status quo, but to help others because we know what it’s like when the system is against us .”