I’m Rohit and I am American. Even though I’m Indian by decent, and born in Germany, I’m American. I’ve lived in New Jersey since I was 5 (I’m 23 now). I have a Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University. I like writing stories and poems, and do semi-professional photography. I run a web design firm. I am proud of this country, my country, and what it represents. And while I entered the country legally, I’ve been in the country illegally for 13 years.
I went through the public school system, with regular aspirations to be an astronaut and president. I grew up a science nerd, being picked on through elementary and middle school. I can still remember how mad my parents were the first time I got a bad grade, and the first time I cursed.
In eighth grade, I got a unique opportunity to attend a magnet high school focusing on the sciences and engineering. My class was the first of the school, and got the rare chance to establish the school. I helped found the school paper, serving as the de-facto editor for two years. I was part of the first National Honors Society, and was the soccer team’s statistician for a year. It was also in high school that I got into photography after being volunteered to be the school photographer. In high school, I took a particular interest in programming and web design. I even went as far as to make my first girlfriend a website for Valentine’s Day (in addition to the usual flowers and a teddy bear).
After graduating high school, I applied to a variety of engineering universities. I got waitlisted at Carnegie Mellon, but got accepted into the Rutgers School of Engineering. College was a drastic change. I went from a high school of 120 people to a University where some of my lectures had 120 people in it on an off day. Fortunately, the honors program was small enough to give me a personal feel in a giant university.
Right from the start, my University experience was different. In high school, I was the closed-off, quiet geek. I was a worker, relatively intelligent, but I was never very social. My first day of college was orientation. At Rutgers, New Student Orientation used to be a three day series of events with both information and fun. Being the geek, I went to the informational stuff, but the energy and helpfulness of the orientation volunteers got me enthused and pushed me to volunteer work all though college.
Even until then, I didn’t know I was in the country illegally. Through high school, my parents shooed off my getting a drivers license by saying the insurance rates were too high. I knew we were tight on money, so I went with it. In college, I didn’t have a car, so it didn’t matter. My parents had managed to avoid the topic, with my never having gotten a job and really never having needed ID. So college was pretty normal.
I entered Rutgers intending on going into electrical engineering, but my early experience at college changed my mind, driving me to biomedical engineering. Through BME, I could use electrical and computer engineering and apply it to medicine, to help people. I also joined a number of clubs, and for better or worse, they became my focus in college. I joined a cultural organization, the Association of Indians at Rutgers, to help get in touch with my cultural heritage as well as to get into volunteer work. I also joined the engineering student government, the Engineering Governing Council, to help make a difference at Rutgers. I wound up on the board for AIR, helping revive a cultural aspect of the club, along with pushing more volunteer activities. Through student government, I became an expert on student legislation at Rutgers, and even helped shape the new student government when Rutgers underwent a merger of its campuses. Through the years, these two clubs became my main clubs, though I also started a religious organization, the Anekantavada Jain Association. While I was attentive to my studies, my college life seemed to revolve around my clubs.
Still, I was pretty into the programming aspects of my degree. I did a project on bone fracture recognition and did my senior design project on a therapy device for people who have suffered a stroke. These classes finalized my intentions of wanting to help people by developing devices to make their lives easier. Unfortunately, senior year is when my life took a turn for the worst. In my final semester, as I started to look around for a job, I inquired with my parents about our immigration status. It was the hardest news I’ve ever received, when my dad informed me that our visas expired in the mid nineties. Instantly my hopes of a job vanished, my dreams of a future went up in smoke. In seconds, I went from just another person to being a pariah. Fortunately, I had been seeing a therapist for other depression issues, and managed to make sense of the situation without going insane.
I have now had a degree for nearly two years, with no use for it. I’ve had ambitions and desires placed on the back burner because of a sheet of paper. I can’t contribute to the society I grew up in, or donate back to the clubs and college that gave me so much. I’m also now in removal proceedings. While I wait to see if I get to stay or leave, I’m stuck at home, not having a car or other effective mode of travel, any semblance of a social life limited to when friends are available and can give me a ride. I feel like through this process, I’ve become a mooch on my friends, who’ve given me nothing but support. Along with my mother, father, and younger brother in his third year of college, we face our final hearing in a few months, and will be forced to leave the US by mid summer without some sort of immigration reform. I’ll be sent off to a country I don’t know, to a culture I’m not a part of, to a language I barely speak. It will be, for all intents and purposes, an exile. If I’m sent off, I have no intention of moving back… Why be a part of a country that doesn’t want me because of the mistakes my parents made? I learned that who you are has nothing to do with being American…in the end, it’s what other people think you are.
~Rohit, DREAMer from New Jersey