Kriti Patel came to the US as a kid. Her world came crashing down years later.
Kriti Patel came to the U.S. from India at the age of nine. She has faint memories of her hometown in Western India. All she knows is that one day her mom and dad told her and her younger brother that they were going to live in far-off America.
Patel had never heard about any American cities besides New York and though excited about the move, she worried about her new school and friends.
Once the family landed in the U.S., Patel realized that they were not headed to the glitzy New York as she had seen in books and on TV, but to a quiet town near Nashville in Midwest.
Patel adjusted to her school soon, even though most her classmates were White and she still spoke English falteringly. Her earliest memories of growing up in the U.S. were those of her mom and dad working very hard, often in two shifts.
“As kids me and my brother saw our parents see-saw between odd-jobs, sometimes at the local Dunkin Donuts, sometimes at the local grocery chain and very often during night shifts,” she recalls.
“As a child, I thought living in America was expensive and that is why my mom who had never before worked in India had to join the workforce.”
“However, their hard work only laid a foundation for both me and my brother,” Patel said. “We understood that it is only through working very hard and very honestly that immigrants have a chance to survive in America.”
Patel’s family moved several times over the course of many years and she was able to assimilate totally into the American way of life.
“I vowed to myself that I will get a good college degree so that I won’t have to hold small-time, contractual jobs like my parents,” she said. “I was a regular kid, with a heavy American accent and a clear plan for my future by then.”
However, things began to change when Patel began applying for colleges. “Once I started filling the college forms, I needed various documents. Things that I had never needed before and this is when I reached out to my parents,” Patel said.
“To my surprise they first kept putting-off the topic and then dissuaded me by saying maybe I can take up a summer job before college. I was puzzled. Here I was a brilliant student and my parents were trying to talk me out of trying for college.”
Patel clearly remembers a fall evening in her family home, when her parents sat her down for a discussion.
“As we were having our evening tea with namkeen (a homemade savory my mom had been making for years), my dad broke the news – ‘we don’t have any of the documents you require for your college admission’.”
“I am thinking. How careless of my dad, not to even keep record of our documents,” Patel continues. “I assumed that things got lost during our many sudden shifts we made over the years. But the truth was something else.”
That evening, Patel’s parents revealed to her that they had been living in the U.S. illegally. Her family came to the country and simply never returned. They overstayed their visas.
“My world came crashing down and now I understood why mom would panic every time my brother or I got fever or chills and why unlike other kids in school instead of going to a doctor we would rely on mom’s hot soups to relieve us.
“I understood why growing up none of us had any medical insurance. It also made sense why my parents never worked in regular jobs, but were mostly shuttling between part-time, temporary jobs.”
However, even amidst the odds, Patel decided to save money for her future education. It was while working in a local grocery store that she learnt about then President Barack Obama introducing DACA or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that offers temporary protection from deportation to young people like her.
“I applied for the program and given my impressive academic track I was able to become a beneficiary,” Patel said. She enrolled herself in a biotechnology course soon after.
However, for the past couple of years, the specter of uncertainty looms large over her once again. She fears that if the program is ended she would be asked to go back to her home country, which she hardly knows.
With more than 800,000 dreamers at risk of deportation, Patel feels she is being penalized for a crime she did not commit.
“Yes, people argue that our coming to the U.S. was illegal, but as DACA kids we shared no responsibility on our being here,” Patel said. “What matters is that we are striving to make meaningful lives and add to the country’s work force.”
According to USCIS figures more than 7,000 Indian kids have hot DACA deferrals. Most Indians do not talk about their status for fear of social stigma. Patel is also one of them. “Unfortunately, there is not much support for us from within the community.”
As Patel awaits the Supreme Court’s Spring 2020 verdict on DACA, she fears a future lost to a crime she did not commit.
(Name changed on request)