Nayim Islam vividly remembers that morning when he woke up to the sound of his wailing mother. She was on the phone and had just learned that her father, who she had not seen for 18 years, was no more.
He remembers how heartbroken she was, not able to see him one last time. For Nayim, then a college sophomore studying Biology and hoping to pursue a career in medicine, the morning was “a turning point in life.”
Nayim’s family had made a tough choice when it moved to the US from Bangladesh on a visitors visa stayed on as undocumented immigrants. It was a one-way ticket with the hope for a better future.
“I remember feeling very guilty after realizing that all her sacrifice may not amount to anything. Without documents, I still won’t be able to achieve that American Dream my parents had for us,” he says.
He says that moment of feeling “helpless and powerless” propelled him to speak out without being afraid and become a community organizer.
He earned a degree in Biology and now works full-time as a community organizer with Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), an organization focusing on immigrant rights of the South Asian community in New York City.
This was possible because of an Obama-era programme -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA -- that allowed nearly 700,000 immigrants, who came to the US illegally as children, to stay and work legally.
President Trump has rescinded that programme and asked the Congress to find a legislative solution by March 5, failing which people like Nayim may have to return to the countries they came from or go back to living in the shadows.
While the majority of the DACA recipients, also known as “dreamers”, are from Latin American countries, at least 2,640 are from India and 490 are from Bangladesh. Nayim says the actual numbers of South Asians is much higher but because of the stigma and shame attached to being undocumented, a lot of people did not come forward.
Also, he says, a large number of South Asian community members did not apply for DACA because they were concerned about sharing information about the whole family with the government.
Despite the risks, DACA changed lives for the better.
Nayim says the first time he got on a plane after coming to the US was after DACA. Many people were able to fly back to their home countries to see their families. It was only after DACA that people like him with college degrees could get “on-the-book” jobs.
Trump’s order has put not only that freedom at risk but also left the families worried because once DACA is cancelled, they do not know what the administration will do with the information they have about undocumented families.
“We do not have a choice but to fight,’’ Nayim says, adding, “even DACA was not given to us by President Obama without a fight.”
Now, along with several other Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, he spends his time organizing rallies, putting pressure on lawmakers and mobilizing the South Asian community to come out.
A recent poll found that 83% of Americans and 67% Republicans support allowing immigrant young people to remain in the US under the DACA programme.
But there are also many who say the government should abolish it once and for all so that in future nobody takes immigration laws lightly.
Responding to the concerns, Nayim says: “Leaving home and family for 20-30 years is not a choice someone makes easily or for fun. Most of the time, they do it for survival.”
Democrats are threatening a government shutdown from this Friday, the deadline to pass the federal spending budget if no agreement is reached before that.
The Trump administration has been pushing for funding for a wall along the Mexican border in return for DACA. And so despite the looming shutdown, no deal seems to be in sight for now.
This article was first published in banglatribune.com