In early 2018, I was months away from graduating with a Juris Doctor degree from the UT School of Law. I was also a few months away from the expiration of my Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status. Because President Trump ended DACA in 2017, I only had legal status until August 2018, just about two weeks after the end of the Bar exam. Unlike many of my classmates, I did not have a job lined up after graduation — I was avoiding applying for jobs. I avoided talking to the law firms where I previously interned and would have been welcomed back for a full-time job after the Bar exam. While my friends and mentors encouraged me to keep looking for a job, how could I look an employer in the eye and ask them to hire me, not knowing whether I would be able to work legally after August, or whether I would get arrested and put on a bus to Mexico?
When I graduated from high school in 2008, I felt fortunate that I was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Houston. About a week into classes — just as I was getting excited about a new world of opportunities and lectures on the “Iliad” — I found out the scholarship would be revoked because the school realized I am not a U.S. citizen. I was left heartbroken and lost. My parents could not help with tuition, money or advice. The school could not help. I started attending legal clinics to see if lawyers could help, but even they had nothing for me. I learned that post-Clinton immigration laws were very unforgiving and left no options for legalization for millions of people. My scholarship was not coming back. No federal loans or grants were available to me. I was able to take on an emergency loan while I figured things out, and I even learned about a program called The Texas Application for State Financial Aid that offered grants to non-citizens. I applied for it, but I was resigned to dropping out and abandoning any academic dreams I had.
In early 2009, I found out I did get financial aid from TASFA. It was not enough for me to return to a university, but I felt lucky enough that I could continue and I quickly enrolled in a community college. I went on to continue my studies and by 2012, I was entering my senior year at the University of Houston. I had no idea what I would do afterwards. I still had no solution to my immigration issue and I could not work in the country legally. My plan was just to work unpaid internships indefinitely until some sort of immigration reform passed. In July 2012, when DACA was announced, it took me a few days to get over the shock and joy to realize that I would be able to work after graduation.
After Trump’s election in 2016, each day came with a dark cloud over my head. The DACA program was going to end — the question was just a matter of when. It was almost a relief when the end of the program was announced because I would no longer have to wonder when the end was coming. Unfortunately, the program’s end was announced my last year of law school. I earned a full scholarship to attend law school at UT, but I was months away from unemployment. I was not sure I would even be allowed to sit for the Bar exam. What are you supposed to do when you’re nearing the next stage of your life and you get presented with dead ends?
Court orders are keeping the DACA program alive for now, but this is temporary. I get to work as an attorney here in Texas until my status expires in March of 2020. I have gone into immigration law to help those people that can be helped, on behalf of the millions of us who have no options. What will happen next year? Will I still be representing people in court? Or will I be the one sitting in the uncomfortable chair with a government attorney eager to deport me?
Cervantes is a 2018 graduate of the UT School of Law.