I often wonder what Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York might write about me in the event of our happenstance meeting. I think about the few paragraphs that would follow my photo and imagine those words and their ability to capture my experience in a way that moves readers. Most of all, though, I imagine a scenario in which the sharing of my story could possess the kind of compassionate curiosity that makes even the most divisive of human challenges worthy of an open heart. But because I have yet to ever meet Brandon Stanton, and time is incredibly short for the DACA community, the ideal revelation of my experience as a DREAMer is no longer important. What matters most is that in telling my story, readers can better understand the circumstances surrounding DACA families and why President Trump’s reversal represents a grave injustice upon me and others who have become upstanding and contributing members of this society. Yes, I am a DREAMer. This is my story.

My mother, a university English professor in the Philippines, decided to pursue a better life for herself and her three children—a life no longer hostage to domestic abuse at the hand of her husband. For this, there was much work to be done. Convincing my father that working in the United States was the best option for greater opportunities not found in our native country was the least of this daunting task. Though initially met with resistance, my father eventually conceded to her idea.

The process of coming to the United States was extremely long and grueling—resembling nothing of what the casual American patriot might deem to be “easy” within the myths of lax immigration policy. My mother, alone, was granted a tourist visa that, with hard work, turned into a work visa after landing a teaching position at an inner-city preschool in New Jersey. A high-level official saw something so special in my mother’s ability to teach children, she decided to sponsor her.

Back in the Philippines my siblings and I went on without the presence of my mother, sustained only by the love of my grandmother and aunt who cared for us. It would be two long and lonely years in the United States, without her children or family, before my mother was finally able sponsor me and my siblings. Arriving in the U.S. at the tender age of fourteen, I was ecstatic to be reunited with my mother. Both she and I had lost some of the most important milestones of my formative years to her time and absence in the United States—a time of bullies and boys, of feeling that I didn’t belong, and a longing for the kind of girl-talk only a mother could provide.

Though happy the share a life with my mother once more, the first few years of living in the U.S. were riddled with stress and confusion. Sometime during my junior or senior year I was informed that my visa had expired and that I was declared “out of status”. At that time, I was largely unaware of the seriously implications this carried. All I knew was that our lawyer had renewed my mother’s visa, but not those of her children. What followed was hardest ordeal of my life.

Still oblivious to the potential consequences of my status, I graduated within the top 20 of my high school class, an achievement which would have made me eligible for a full college scholarship through the NJ Stars program. However, because of my status change, I was not able to apply for the benefit. And so, though it seemed impossible, my mother would find a way to pay.

At only sixteen-years old, I was attending community college classes and planning out my academic track on my own as I went. In anticipation for joining the nursing program, I spent two full years completing the necessary perquisites, only to find that my immigration status rendered me ineligible to apply. It was another dead end, another devastation.

Around this time, my mother had been dating my stepfather, and with my eighteenth birthday fast-approaching, she floated the idea of their marriage to protect our legal status. But at the time, he was reluctant to marry. Though he happily married my mother the following year, only my younger brother and sister would be “saved”, both becoming American citizens instantly. But not me. I had missed the cut-off. It was one of the lowest points of my life. I was overwhelmed by anger, shame, and self-pity. There was, yet again, an ocean that separated me from my mother—and now, my siblings; they were Americans, and I was not.

I, then, took a year off from school to plan my next move. It was at that time when a family friend informed me that universities had been practicing a kind of “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy (or something along those lines) regarding the immigration status of incoming students. It was a narrow and precarious path forward, but a chance nonetheless for success beyond my unfortunate predicament. I decided to go for it, and applied to Montclair State University.

It’s interesting how even the worst of times can bear the fruit of future victories. It was during that break year—when I was down and lost—that I discovered a knack for listening and providing guidance to friends. Little did I know that this would mark the beginning of my journey as a professional counselor.

In 2012, after graduating with my Bachelor’s in Family and Child Studies, and with the honor of Magna Cum Laude, I applied for the Counseling graduate program. But, I hit another glass ceiling: my mother could not afford to pay for my Master’s. And, because of my immigration status, a loan was completely out of reach.

So, I took off another year, suffering through a minor depression over the brick wall before me. Unable to continue my education, drive a car, or see friends living far away, my mental health took a turn for the worst. I began to think of death and suicide in the hours and days spent home in isolation, only sustaining myself through the darkest moments with the help of therapy.

But then something changed. In enacting the DACA program, President Obama provided hope, dignity, and faces to the stories of children brought the U.S. under unique circumstances. It was like I had become human again, able to exist as everyone else without shame or fear. I drove, went to school, and became productive once more. With my mother’s help, I was even able to purchase a car. Even now, as I write this, the memory brings me to tears of gratitude and humility.

Fast forward to present day. Currently, I work full-time with special needs children as a teacher’s assistant; I serve as a counseling intern at an agency that works with adolescent mental health issues; on weekends, I work catering jobs in addition to being a per diem server at a steakhouse—all this, while finishing my final semester of graduate school. It is my wish that those far removed from the immigrant experience—those lucky enough to have been born American citizens by mere chance—understand that I, and those of the DACA community, do not simply rest upon the successes of natural-born citizens; instead, we strive, thrive, and survive on our own.

If there is any message to heed, let it be this: do not be seduced by the political baiting and sound bites of “experts” and Presidents alike, obsessed with the merit of determinism and luck, as the experience of coming to America is not for the faint of heart, nor the lazy—something your great great grandparents coming through Ellis Island would agree with, I’d imagine.

In light of recent events and a hostile political environment under the Trump administration, it’s tempting to ask: If I could go back and change things, would I not come to the United States? It’s a fair question, though one I’m not sure one I can answer. Who’s to say what helps anyone fulfill their personal potential. For some, it’s a large family inheritance; for others, its work and grit. The only thing I’m certain of is that my story has shaped me into a stronger and better version of myself.

The uncertainty of what lies ahead is undoubtedly unnerving. Nevertheless, I and others of the DACA community press onward toward justice for ourselves and our families, to achieve an immigration status that is fair to our experience as children brought to this country. And for those readers who may become angered by my words, I would remind you that not long ago this country was founded by men and women just like me, people who imagined a land where anyone willing to work hard deserved a chance, people who dared to dream of a world apart from the power and injustice of monarchial birth and determinism. They were the first to imagine a new world in which dreams really could come true, because they were DREAMers, too.