Stepping out of the shadows

Undocumented

Undocumented

Cameron Gorman

Editor’s note: To protect the student and his family, The Kent Stater has changed Adriny’s name.

Adriny Hordiyenko has a job and a driver’s license. He has a social security number and a circle of friends. When he graduates, he dreams of working at ESPN. He may sit next to you in class.

Hordiyenko’s parents are undocumented immigrants, and Hordiyenko, like 238,206 other people in the U.S. as of June 2016, is here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive action enacted under the Obama administration in 2012. 

It’s a compromised version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act — something Daniel Hawes, an associate political science professor at Kent State, explained was legislation in Congress introduced in 2001, which could have created a legal pathway for citizenship, but did not pass into law. 

“President (Barack) Obama has used executive actions to basically make it so that there won’t be deportations, but the long-term path is still uncertain and unclear,” Hawes said.

Hawes said that not being in fear — or being in jeopardy of deportation — is different than having permanent legal status, which is needed for employment.

“Unless Congress changes the laws in terms of employment, it’s a big question mark moving forward,” Hawes said.

On Sept. 22 at the Poynter Media Ethics Workshop, held annually at Kent State’s Franklin Hall, Hordiyenko stood up in front of a packed room to announce his undocumented status. Among those in the room was keynote speaker Jose Vargas, founder of Define American, a nonprofit media organization seeking to increase conversation regarding immigration and citizenship in the U.S.

Vargas played a video that was made for Define American showing real people who “came out” as undocumented.

“I was just watching the video, I was tearing up and I was just like, ‘I am going to do it,’” Hordiyenko said. “During the Q and A, I just made up my mind.” 

Vargas, who is also an undocumented immigrant, was sharing his experiences with the crowd when Hordiyenko found it too hard to resist. For almost 18 years, he hadn’t told anyone about his past as a childhood arrival from Ukraine, or his citizenship status. 

Hordiyenko said his frame of mind in coming out was to say, “Hey, you know, I am also in the same boat as he is, same shoes, that I am … (as) an undocumented immigrant.”

“(I thought) it would drive the point even further home, and make people realize — here’s a kid that I go to class with,” Hordiyekno said.

Julián Gómez, an activist with Define American, agreed with Hordiyenko’s reasoning. Gómez said stories are powerful tools in helping relate to others, more impactful than just using a statistic.  

“Telling your story shows people, ‘I am a person just like you, except I happen to be undocumented,’” Gómez said. “It’s a particularly powerful statement for (a) student to make on a college campus. Many students at Kent State likely do not consider that their fellow classmates might be undocumented.”

Like Hordiyenko, Gómez said he had come out as an undocumented immigrant publicly a few years ago to the press and in a YouTube video, and that there are many reasons someone might come forward. Mostly to stop living with the secret.

“Living ‘in the shadows’ means not being able to be fully yourself,” Gómez said.

But coming out of the shadows isn’t without its dangers.

“For the people who’ve already gone through (it), they’re fine,” said Daniel Chand, a political science assistant professor. “But, DACA is only for two years … if Trump got elected — if he decided he wanted to issue an executive order discontinuing that program — even the ones that’ve gone through, they could face deportation.”

Hordiyenko came to the U.S. with his parents as tourists in 1998 “to pursue the American dream,” he said.

As cliché as it sounds, that is why a lot of people come to America, Hordiyenko said. 

“It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s the greatest country in the world … There’s more opportunity here,” Hordiyenko said. “I didn’t come here voluntarily — I mean, I wanted to come here … America’s this great … almost like a fairytale story.”

Without a clear plan forward once they arrived, Hordiyenko’s family decided quietly to stay.

“We never really had legal advice from anyone (and) didn’t really know many lawyers, so we just kind of stayed quiet, and just went about our business in a quiet manner,” Hordiyenko said.

His parents worked to support the family in any jobs they could find, such as in hotels and temp agencies — for less than minimum wage. They would work without any rights or documentation.

“It’s basically cheap labor. Anytime you are associated with those agencies, they pretty much control you and what your actions are because they have something to hold against you,” Hordiyenko said. “You just have to suck it up and take the abuse.”

His parents, though, cannot be placed on DACA because they did not arrive as children.

“It’s unlikely the person’s parents would be deported,” Chand said, “but it’s always a possibility.”

Being undocumented within the country is not a criminal offense, but an administrative one. This means that it’s not a crime by itself to be in the country. Most immigrants, including Hordiyenko’s family, entered the country legally and overstayed their provisions.

Police can’t enforce interior immigration policy.

In order to be deported, they would first have to be arrested for an unrelated crime, at which point they would be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Even then, they still might not have to leave.

“There’s not very many times, once you’re in the country, that you’ll come into contact with administrators … who have the power to enforce immigration policy,” Chand said. “Most of the time, when someone’s caught, they’re caught trying to enter the country.”

In addition, Chand explained, the Obama administration has “made a very concerted effort” over the last few years to encourage (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) efforts to focus on immigrants with pre-existing criminal records, not those simply going about their business.

Even with the risks, Hordiyenko still felt that he had to open up.

“I figured it’s just to lift this weight off my shoulders, and just to feel normal,” Hordiyenko said. “Keeping that a secret from outside my close circle of friends, it was a weight on me, but at the same time … I’ve never really had the support base that I felt … in the moments afterwards.”

In the past, Hordiyenko said he has felt largely alone in his experiences.

“Since (the Poynter Ethics Workshop), I’ve been feeling very, very anxious — this whole experience of being undocumented and trying to live with that, trying to cope with that concept,” Hordiyenko said.

He said he has battled with depression and anxiety in the past.

“I had a period about eight years ago that I was sort of suicidal to an extent, which … thinking back, it scares me,” he said. 

According to the American Psychological Association, such mental health issues are relatively common in immigrants. Negative experiences such as family separation and profiling can cause a multitude of problems, especially in youth: anxiety, depression and social isolation, to name a few.

Even with the added stress, the timing for Hordiyenko’s revelation is critical. The volatile election season could be the hinging point on his future, as well as countless others —especially with the recent importance placed on the nominees’ immigration policies.

“Normally, I would not make normative statements about presidential candidates as a scholarly researcher. But in the case of (Republican presidential nominee) Trump, I’ll make an exception. I don’t really know — I can’t really discern any governing principles from this man,” Chand said. “I wouldn’t even want to pretend to imagine. I mean, can you imagine ripping apart millions of families?”

For immigrants like Hordiyenko, the looming possibilities have not been easy.

“Certain politicians in this country who are anti-immigration reform have always had the rhetoric that people like me … we’re less than the American,” Hordiyenko said. “We’re not deserving of the same rights, same treatment, everything like that.”

Michael Conti, another employee at Define American, bolstered Hordiyenko in an email.

“There’s no single way to argue why undocumented immigrants are worthy of citizenship. Why did my ancestors, poor Italian immigrants, deserve to become citizens almost immediately after they landed at Ellis Island,” Conti wrote.

Conti said that if citizenship is the reward and responsibility for those who contribute to the American society, citing the fact that his relatives had previously worked in food service and farming jobs, then immigrants have earned the right to it.

“The quality of the people who come to the U.S. has not changed over the years. Rather, our immigration laws have become more complex, more restrictive to those coming from the parts of the world who most want to come here,” Conti said. “We should welcome them, not keep them in legal limbo.”

For now, though, people living under the DACA have no clear-cut pathway to legal citizenship once they exit college.

“DACA is basically a work permit, and an official acknowledgement that you will not be placed in ‘removal proceedings,’ (also known as) deportation,” Conti said.

Hordiyenko could marry a U.S. citizen or join the military, but these measures aren’t official or preferred.

“These routes are available to anyone here without permission, not just DACA recipients,” Conti said. “DACA provides no path.”

With both Trump and (Democratic presidential nominee) Clinton vying for an election win on Nov. 8, the topic of immigration remains.

Either way, though, the decisions made will affect all of us, and the way the country values its people, citizen and immigrant alike.

Horiyenko doesn’t want people’s pity; he said he wants people to understand that like him, there are others in the same situation.

“We just want to feel equal, feel worthy and be on the same level playing field as everyone else,” Hordiyenko said. “We’re all human.”

Cameron Gorman is a diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected]