Mere blocks away from where I went to high school were two gas stations–One right across the street from the other. The word on the street was that one was one gang’s territory and, not fifty feet away on the other side, the other belonged to another gang. Drug transactions were nightly occurrences, terrorizing the surrounding residents and desensitizing them to an environment not conducive to peace and tranquility. The local police department, in an attempt to crack down on drugs moving through the area, set up a checkpoint on the street, stopping would-be drug dealers and abusers.
I had just finished my weekly bout of grocery shopping at the local Kroger. The ice cream I had just bought to supplement the Redbox movie I had planned to watch that night was slowly melting, waiting to make the trek from my car to the freezer. It’s safe to say that I anticipated that night, driving home, to be just like any other night.
As I drove down Napier Avenue, listening to the radio, window down as the soft spring breeze brushed the side of my face, I saw flashing blue lights up ahead. I thought to myself, “Oh no, this can’t be happening tonight.” As an undocumented immigrant, I was driving without a valid Georgia driver’s license. Instead, I had with me an expired Filipino driver’s license and an international driver’s license that I received by virtue of my Filipino citizenship.
I approached the checkpoint. My heart was beating at a million beats per minute. I stopped, rolled down my windows, and a Macon police officer shone his flashlight into my face, disorienting me for the next few seconds. He asked me to give him my license and registration. I immediately complied, giving him my Filipino license and international license. He took one look at the two and looked me in the eyes, saying, “Where’s your Georgia driver’s license?”
“I don’t have one,” I said.
“Do you know that, under Georgia law, you have to get a Georgia driver’s license within 30 days of moving into the state?”
“I wasn’t aware of that, sir,” I responded, even though I was well aware of that law. Had I responded otherwise, he could have asked me to step out of the car, asked me to place my hands behind my back and, subsequently, place me in handcuffs for driving without a valid driver’s license. Instead, he said, “I’ll let you off with a warning for now. You need to get a new driver’s license as soon as you can, young man.”
“Thank you, sir. I will. Have a great evening,” I responded, my heart full of emotions that were previously unknown to me.
The rest of the ride home was done in silence. I drove past Central High School on my left, the school where I graduated as salutatorian, with a 4.0 GPA, and where I made countless memories with my closest high school friends. Two minutes later, I pulled into my driveway, right across the street from the school where I currently attend–Mercer University.
I turned the key towards me, shutting off the engine, and left the key in the ignition. Instantly, a plethora of emotions hit me with the force of a tidal wave. Since I was ten, I lived with the reality of being an undocumented immigrant. At any given moment, I could be arrested and deported to the Philippines, a country I left when I was only a year old. The United States of America is my only home. It is the only place I know, the only place I know how to exist.
The monotonous beeping of my car telling me that the key was still in the ignition did very little to drown out my weeping, having understood the gravity of what had just occurred. The tears streamed down my cheeks as I pondered the fact that I came closer than ever to being arrested and deported; and only for making the normal weekly drive from the grocery store to my house. I hurt no one. All of this happened in 2011, shortly after I graduated from high school.
The summer of 2012 was the advent of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, who moved to this country when they were young through no choice of their own, the opportunity to be free of the constant fear of being forcibly returned to the country from which they left. This program granted me lawful presence in the United States. With this, I was finally able to apply for and receive my coveted Georgia driver’s license. I passed the necessary tests with flying colors.
Two years later, February 21st, 2014, Senator Bill Heath in Georgia General Assembly introduced SB 404– a bill that would have stripped me and tens of thousands of other DACA immigrants of their Georgia driver’s licenses. Thankfully, as a result of a large-scale grassroots mobilization effort that included hundreds of calls to Georgia legislators, the threat of a boycott of the products of campaign donors, and numerous protests and rallies outside the Georgia State Capitol Building, the bill was defeated. When the Senator tried to resurrect the bill as an amendment to another bill, it also failed miserably.
I’m constantly awed by God’s wonder and grace. It is because of His guidance that I am able to continue driving legally in the State of Georgia. I constantly pray that God would guide our local, state, and national leaders to enact fair and just immigration reform that would help fix our broken system.
Raymond Partolan is a junior at Mercer University, double majoring in political science and Spanish. He currently serves as the student body president and has been recognized as an immigrant-rights activist across the State of Georgia and on the national stage.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.