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I'm An Undocumented Immigrant

And I want everyone to know it

"Ranked 9th, 4.0+ GPA, $282,200 in awarded scholarships, Upenn C/o 2020, and I’m also Undocumented."

I tweeted this on June 4, right after I graduated from high school. My message was accompanied by a picture of me with my loved ones, and was sent under a trending Twitter hashtag highlighting the excellence and showcasing the accomplishments of graduating undocumented students.

Tweets congratulating, complimenting, and celebrating me quickly poured in, and over the next few hours my tweet barreled past a thousand "likes." I felt overjoyed to receive such positive reactions to one of my biggest insecurities, a part of my identity that I’ve intensely closeted: my immigration status.

Erik Vargas

Soon enough, however, an outpouring of hateful comments and threats replaced this positive support. I realized the Trump Twittersphere had gotten ahold of it.

"You deserve deportation," one person tweeted.

"You have to go back faggot," tweeted another. "Illegal trash"; "Wetback piece of shit"; "Mexican dirtball."

Erik Vargas
Erik Vargas
Erik Vargas

Comment after comment, post after post, rolled in. It was a bombardment.

As of 10:32 a.m. on June 6, I had blocked over 60 people on Twitter. Hundreds of racist and xenophobic slurs had been thrown at me. I had been reported to ICE 17 times. Fortunately enough, thanks to President Obama’s passing of DACA in 2012, I am granted immunity from such threats. Still, the fact that people would so vehemently crash a celebration of undocumented youth’s accomplishments is frightening.

So why did I do it? Why did I put myself out there like that, despite the fact that my parents indoctrinated me with the instruction No le digas a nadie ("Don't tell anyone") about my status? Why did I commit political suicide in the face of Donald Trump’s increasing power?

As ironic as it may sound, I did it for visibility.

There is a blind, unjust, conservative belief among far too many Americans that immigrants — specifically those who come from south of the border or anywhere else that’s not Western Europe — are generally bad people. We are stupid, we are rapists, and we are evil, they say. These beliefs are often met with relatively little backlash for many reasons, but especially because no one wants to publicly say, "I’m undocumented, but here’s why that shouldn’t be a problem."

But, for the sake of more than 11 million undocumented American lives, I believe it’s crucial that undocumented Americans say just that. It is crucial that people know that we are terrific human beings. It is a crucial risk to take.

And so I risked it. I whisked out four pictures from my graduation, moved a few words around, threw in a few commas, and bravely (or stupidly) tapped "send." Le dije a todos.

I came from Mexico at the age of 1 on the shoulders of an uncle. I haven’t seen Mexico in person since. I don’t even have the faintest memory of it. I have encountered everything through an American perspective, even though some textbooks refer to people who share my experience as an "alien" in a (perhaps) inadvertently dehumanizing way.

So you can imagine my shock when I found out in eighth grade what it meant to be "undocumented." You can imagine my shock when I found out that it would be practically impossible to attend a state university or that I’d be able to apply to fewer than 5 percent of scholarships. You can imagine my despondency when a friend, knowing my status, said, "But you’re the smart kid, you’re supposed to go to college."

I didn’t know of anybody in my situation who had gone on to pursue higher education. Who in my situation would dare tell anyone else? But I still worked tirelessly throughout high school. I took the most challenging courses that my school offered and excelled in them. I read innumerable books and taught myself other subjects. I took up leadership positions in the school band and tutored others in all subjects. I got a job. I got two jobs. I clocked in over 60 hours on an average summer workweek. I volunteered at my local hospital over the summer. I did everything I thought a good citizen should do.

Finally, on December 1, 2015, at 3:30 p.m., I found out I had been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship through QuestBridge. I hadn’t thought I could go to college at all, much less to an Ivy League university, much less for almost free. I was relieved.

Truth be told, undocumented immigrants actually do want to contribute to this nation. We came here with dreams and ambitions. We came here with the intention of living better lives and giving back to the communities that brought us in. But our immigration system is broken, which is a grand misfortune for those of us who desperately want to embrace the responsibilities of being citizens.

Indeed, I'm writing this as part of my crusade for acceptance — acceptance in the context of a sometimes racist, xenophobic, sexist nation. Undocumented immigrants are here, succeeding and doing our best to make this country a better place. It’s necessary to know this now more than ever. Our nation especially needs to be reminded of this given the antiquated hate being spewed out by political figures every night on TV. I cannot fathom how one of the biggest problems with America, this ignorant hatred, is what would "make America great again."

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