DACA ‘Dreamer’ Now Harvard Graduate Advocates For Immigration Reform

“Not a lot of people have an opportunity to go to Cornell or to go to Harvard, and I did,” he said. “That’s not to say that their lives are any different than mine or more or less important. It’s just that they don’t have some of the opportunities that I’ve had. That was kind of the whole thinking behind it. It’s, ‘Hey, this much time has gone by. Here’s my story. Here’s how it’s affected people like me, and we’re long overdue for comprehensive immigration reform.'”

Dear First Lady Dr. Biden and President Biden,

I vividly remember the day I sat on the floor outside of an acute care unit where my father was having emergency surgery. I watched a small team of paramedics bow their heads in anticipation and sorrow. Moments earlier, they had been tirelessly working on reviving my father after he developed asphyxiating blood clots in his lungs as a result of a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Even before I could compute the weight of that moment, a sense of isolation and dread began to settle in.

To my siblings and me, he was more than a father, he was our lifeline in the United States. After securing an opportunity to work for the Pakistani embassy, my father brought us to the States in search of a better life. But eight years later, his employment term would expire and it became mandatory for us to return to Pakistan. But, there was one problem–this magical place called America offered too much to lose. My father made the decision to lean into uncertainty, overstay his term, and chose to become “undocumented.” This meant that our primary mission was survival. We did our best to fly under the radar while maintaining a sense of normalcy to deter suspicious eyes. Being undocumented also meant that our lives were on hold and at any moment we could be uprooted from our home. It would mean that we could not lawfully work, nor could we drive, and it certainly was not feasible for us to attend college. Nevertheless, my father brought us here with the belief that one day the doors of opportunity would open. When my father passed, I felt that we would have to, yet again, navigate a new map of the world– one that was stifling in its unnecessary complexity.

My name is Umaar Ehsan, and I am an alumnus of Northern Virginia Community College and Cornell University. Currently, I am a graduate student at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most notably, I am a DREAMer. My upbringing as an undocumented American has been an invaluable prism through which I’ve come to understand civic duty and my purposeful role in society, helping me cultivate both curiosity and perspective. I’d like to share my story with you and request your assistance in recalibrating our nation’s moral compass by committing to the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Unable to enroll in college, I educated myself by reading at the public library and speaking to local leaders about issues impacting our community. Being undocumented and not having access to mainstream institutions of learning fostered a keen sense of creativity and resourcefulness — two characteristics that have influenced my work ethic and determination. The Obama/Biden Administration enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order allowing people like myself to break out of the shackles of our uncertainty. DACA protects nearly 800,000 young people against deportation but does not grant legal immigration status or a pathway to citizenship. In other words, it is a stop-gap measure preventing tried-and-tested Americans from reaching their highest potential.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to Harvard Graduate School where I am earning a Master’s of Education in Learning Design, Innovation, and Technology. However, attending graduate school as a DACA recipient presents itself with a unique set of challenges. For one, the cost of attendance is a barrier to entry. Now, this can be said about higher education as a whole, but in many states, DACA recipients are considered international students incurring two, sometimes three times the costs of their “documented” counterparts. Fortunately, in my home state of Virginia, DACA recipients can receive domicile status. Even so, they (we) are not eligible to receive federal financial aid, federal loans, and federal work-study programs.

I was confronted by this obstacle after receiving my acceptance to graduate school—how was I going to be able to…

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