I was in my last year of college when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Just a couple months before this happened, I was so excited to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing college, and I was really looking forward to seeing my parents. They were never able to visit me while in college and now that they had just fixed their immigration status, travel was now easier. I was taken by surprise when my university informed me that graduation was cancelled, classes were going to be moved online, and I had to return home—a place that for a very long time I avoided because of immigration checkpoints and constant surveillance. Now I was not only worried about a global pandemic, but also navigating life as an undocumented college graduate and soon to live in a border town in Texas. The thought of moving back was triggering; I remember the tears, the anger, and resentment I once felt towards my hometown, for not loving me, for not seeing me worthy of humanity.
Although being undocumented has taught me a lot about being okay with uncertainty, this was very different. Now I wasn’t only worried about my status, but I started to wonder what would happen if my family or I got sick. My student insurance was going to expire soon and I had to continue working and possibly exposing myself to Covid because I couldn’t afford to lose my income. My parents were in a similar situation: My mom had to temporarily close her small business and lost all her income. My dad who worked as a janitor had to continue working to sustain our family. After speaking with school authorities, they allowed me to stay for extra time on campus. While that alleviated my situation temporarily, I still had to eventually return home to Texas.
That period between online classes and graduation was a difficult time for me. I was very stressed trying to perform well in my last semester while balancing the uncertainty of returning home. Most of my friends returned home; our undocumented center and mental health center limited their appointments; and I couldn’t exercise as much as I used to. Soon my body and mental health resented the change. I started gaining weight and I wasn’t in the best state emotionally, but I kept pushing.
As months went by I decided I didn’t want to return to my hometown since that could mean not being able to leave because of immigration checkpoints, so in May I finally packed my belongings and moved to California where I found a place to live. Living in California was very exciting because I was finally going to be able to have a driver’s license and health insurance because of the state’s laws. I was very fortunate that I had money saved up and that I was able to work online which made my transition easier. However, as the number of Covid cases increased, many friends from my high school in Texas started getting symptoms and testing positive for COVID-19. Around July, my mom called me informing me that she started developing flu-like symptoms such as a fever, cough, and soreness. I was very worried for her and it made me sad that I couldn’t be there to take care of her. I asked her several times to get tested for Covid but since she was undocumented for many years, she didn’t fully understand the U.S healthcare system and how to access resources. She was worried that because she didn’t have insurance she would not be able to afford health care costs. After a week of symptoms, she got better, but then she got worse than before. She was in bed for a couple days. After I insisted, my mom decided to go to the clinic where she got some antibiotics that improved her condition. To this day, I wonder if my mom had been fully documented since we came to this country, she may have never hesitated going to the doctor. Thankfully, my mom is now fully recovered and has been able to reopen her business, however I still worry for her and my family. My mom’s story reminds me of all the immigrants that have been affected physically, mentally, and financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our struggles are often unique and lack representation in the media, but I know that during this time we need to stay united and continue to reach out to one another more than ever.
It makes me sad to think of all the immigrant lives that are affected by this pandemic and how people like my dad, who is a janitor at a big company, might not be considered an essential worker, but he is essential in the building of the American economy. Without immigrants risking their everyday wellbeing while working in schools, hospitals, and stores during this pandemic, we would not have a functioning country.
With the uncertainty of this pandemic and as I write this blog post, I have made the decision to return to my hometown in the next couple months to take care of myself and my family. I don’t think most documented and even undocumented folks with DACA understand what it means to travel and reside in a border town without work authorization. I fully understand the consequences and risks of returning, but I also know how important it is for me to be with my family in moments like this. Returning feels kind of surreal to me since I didn’t imagine it would be under these circumstances. However, I do remain hopeful that brighter times will come and I will soon be able to travel without restrictions. While I know a lot is happening right now and immigrants are under attack, this is a time of solidarity and love, and we must continue to inform ourselves and push for better reform. I don’t know how long this will go on for, but I look forward to hugging all my amazing immigrant friends.
Alejandra was born and raised in Mexico and moved to the U.S in 2012. She lived in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and graduated from Tufts University with a degree in American studies and education. Because Alejandra didn’t qualify for DACA, she has now created an income through entrepreneurship, where she continues to learn and grow to be a conscious entrepreneur and educate other immigrants about business creations and ways entrepreneurship can be used as a powerful form of resistance.
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