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  • Translator: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • Four years ago, I almost got deported.

  • It was a couple of days before my 21st birthday

  • and I had just come home from a ski trip in the mountains with my college friends.

  • I remember pulling my suitcase up the stairs

  • and just as I pushed opened the door to my childhood bedroom,

  • I heard my dad's voice from behind.

  • That's when he said four words I'll never forget:

  • "You don't have papers."

  • In his hand was a letter from The Department of Homeland Security -

  • a notice to appear in Immigration Court.

  • The letter said that I had overstayed my visa

  • and now had to go before a judge

  • who could issue me a ten-year bar from re-entering the only home I know.

  • How do you prepare yourself for the realization

  • that you are less than legal?

  • That suddenly, you're an unwelcome guest in your own home?

  • Facing eviction.

  • That moment of truth sent me flying into a new chapter of my life

  • that I never wanted or imagined I could ever be a part of

  • because I had heard about those illegal aliens,

  • how they're criminal, they take our jobs,

  • they don't even speak English!

  • But my dad's words exposed me to a reality that wasn't mine,

  • until suddenly it was.

  • And suddenly, that illegal alien was me.

  • Today, I want to take you on that journey of transformation.

  • To help you understand what it's like to be undocumented in America.

  • My story starts about 300 miles north of the Montana border

  • in Edmonton, Canada.

  • My family didn't have much money,

  • so in 1995, when I was five years old,

  • my dad went to the US to search for something more,

  • while his wife and his two young kids stayed behind.

  • In Florida, he made five bucks an hour behind a counter of a Dunkin' Donuts.

  • It wasn't glamorous and the future was really uncertain,

  • but my dad believed in the American dream.

  • The American dream is - it's what you tell your kids

  • or maybe what your parents told you -

  • that if you just stay in school and if you eat all your vegetables,

  • you can be anything you want when you grow up.

  • It's the idea that if you just work hard, you can do great things.

  • And our founding fathers believed in the American dream.

  • And did you know that none of our founders were born American?

  • They all became American over time.

  • In fact, many of our nation's immigrants were paperless,

  • but their dreams of prosperity

  • gave their children and their children's children

  • the ability to call themselves American.

  • Many of those children are in this audience.

  • I was six years old in 1996,

  • when my dad got me a visa to come here.

  • And I can still remember learning the words

  • to the Pledge of Allegiance on the first day of school.

  • I remember when I traded in my snow boots for cowboy boots

  • and when "washroom" became the "bathroom".

  • And when I learned "The Star-Spangled Banner"

  • and how it replaced "O Canada."

  • I remember how in elementary school,

  • I spent five years learning how to square-dance,

  • which, by the way, is not a transferable skill -

  • I can't take that to Canada with me.

  • Yeah.

  • My parents loved it here and they wanted to stay.

  • So they hired an attorney, filed the paperwork,

  • they paid the fees and they waited for an approval

  • that just never came.

  • We never imagined our attorney would file the paperwork late.

  • Or that an employer would refuse to sign a document

  • in the final stage of a years-long application process.

  • Things went wrong.

  • But we played by the rules

  • and 18 years later, we have nothing to show for it.

  • Not even papers.

  • You know, handling immigration paperwork is sort of like filing taxes -

  • it's an adult's issue, not something you would concern the kids with.

  • So I didn't know I had overstayed my visa,

  • because I was left out of that decision-making process.

  • And instead, I focused on other things, like school.

  • I got accepted to Northwestern University

  • and when I left for college, my parents came with me

  • to make sure there's air conditioning in my dorm, which there wasn't.

  • But also to make sure there were no boys living in my dorm,

  • which there were.

  • (Laughter)

  • But that was the last time they ever got on a plane,

  • because a couple of months later their driver's licenses expired

  • and that's really when their life of invisibility began.

  • You know, living in this country

  • without a valid, government-issued ID card, is hard.

  • Because while my parents can't renew their driver's licenses,

  • they still pay car insurance.

  • They can't open a savings account, can't get a credit card,

  • can't sign up for Obamacare,

  • and forget retirement without social security.

  • My parents have a 20-year track record

  • of paying income tax, sales tax, property tax,

  • Medicaid tax, Medicare tax, Social Security tax,

  • and yet we are still undocumented.

  • Growing up, I felt the burden of being undocumented

  • in so many other ways.

  • I felt it when I took out six figures in loans to pay for college

  • because I didn't qualify for federal financial aid.

  • I felt it when my parents wouldn't let me study abroad

  • because what they knew at the time, and what I didn't,

  • was that if I left the country, I wouldn't be allowed back in.

  • I was sitting at my college graduation ceremony in June 2012

  • on the day that White House launched a new program

  • that allowed young people brought to the US, including myself,

  • to get our work permits.

  • And it was a huge sigh of relief, because before then,

  • I didn't know what I was going to do with a diploma in one hand

  • and without a work permit in the other.

  • But that work permit is a temporary solution

  • to a much longer-term problem.

  • Because it expires in two years.

  • And beyond then, my life is uncertain.

  • How can you really plan for a life,

  • when that life can come crashing down at any moment?

  • It's scary knowing your status is a secret you always have to hold.

  • That you always have to fear.

  • So, we hide in plain sight.

  • We drive below the speed limit,

  • we stop at every yellow light.

  • And we try to stay positive,

  • but it's hard to keep your head down and your chin up at the same time.

  • I feel American.

  • I always have.

  • But every day I'm reminded that I'm not.

  • I was reminded when I got called in for jury duty a couple of years ago,

  • and during election season, since I can't vote.

  • I was reminded a few months ago,

  • when immigration officers took my dad.

  • I had to rip up my student loan check

  • and re-write it to the Department of Homeland Security

  • to get him released from behind barb-wired fence

  • surrounding the South Texas Detention Center.

  • That's a kind of place where you're given a dirty white jumpsuit

  • and known by your serial number.

  • How did we get to a point in this country

  • where 11 million people are living in the shadows?

  • Eleven million people!

  • That's the population of New York City and Los Angeles combined.

  • It is a massive number.

  • Here's immigration in a nutshell.

  • About half of the undocumented population came here without authorization -

  • there's no record of them having crossed the border.

  • The other half, including myself - we came here legally.

  • But over time, things like 9/11 made immigration laws more complex.

  • And so while we waited for our applications to process,

  • we developed strong ties to our communities.

  • So we never left.

  • The numbers are pretty stunning, actually.

  • About 60% of the undocumented population has lived here for at least a decade.

  • 25% of the undocumented population -

  • they've lived here for more than 20 years.

  • Twenty years!

  • For some of you, that's a generation.

  • For me, twenty years is a lifetime.

  • A couple of months ago I went to SXSW, the festival in Austin.

  • And I went to a panel on immigration reform.

  • One of the questions that came up was,

  • what do we do about the 11 million people who are living here without papers?

  • A senator responded, and he said,

  • "You know, I wish those immigrants would just go to the back of the line."

  • So when the floor opened up for Q&A,

  • I took the mic and I said,

  • "Senator, what does the line look like?"

  • He didn't have an answer for me,

  • because the truth is, there is no line.

  • It has to do with how old you were when you got here,

  • the kind of visa you came in on,

  • what country you're from, what your occupation is,