Rishi Singh

New York

Rishi Singh

1. How old were you when you came to the United States? Tell me a little about when you first realized that you were undocumented and what that meant for you.

I am eth­ni­cal­ly Indi­an, but I was born in Trinidad and came to the U.S. when I was ten years old. My moth­er, broth­er and I came to the U.S. on tourist visas to meet my father, who arrived a few months ear­li­er. Once in the U.S., my father tried to find work so that we could build a bet­ter life, but he was unable to find an employ­er who was will­ing to spon­sor him for a visa. Through­out my child­hood, both of my par­ents worked very hard and had no choice oth­er than work­ing in unac­cept­able sit­u­a­tions because of their undoc­u­ment­ed sta­tus. They were under­paid for their long hours, couldn’t take breaks or sick days, and were rou­tine­ly dis­re­spect­ed because their employ­ers knew they were vul­ner­a­ble. My moth­er cleans hous­es and my father, who passed away a few years ago, worked at var­i­ous odd jobs to make ends meet. While my par­ents with­stood unbear­able work con­di­tions to pro­vide for our fam­i­ly, I focused on my school­work and excelled in my class­es, striv­ing to make them proud.

As a senior in high school, I began the col­lege appli­ca­tion process, just like my class­mates. Most appli­ca­tions, includ­ing schol­ar­ships, required a Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber. When I asked my moth­er what my Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber was, she told me that I did not have one. Even though I always knew that we strug­gled, I did not real­ize until then the full extent of our strug­gle or what it would mean for my future. I would not be able to apply for finan­cial aid or oth­er ben­e­fits. I would not be able to do so many of the things I had planned. Col­lege appli­ca­tions were just the first of many lim­i­ta­tions that I would face because I was undoc­u­ment­ed. I felt iso­lat­ed, help­less, and depressed. I had worked so hard to do well in school; yet with­out know­ing it, I had set myself up for dis­ap­point­ment. With­out a green card or cit­i­zen­ship, I would only have access to cer­tain col­leges or uni­ver­si­ties, and even for those schools, I was not eli­gi­ble for most finan­cial assis­tance. Regard­less of my aca­d­e­m­ic excel­lence and dri­ve, I faced bar­ri­ers beyond my con­trol that would not allow me to suc­ceed in the ways I wanted.

2. What have been the biggest barriers for you in achieving your dreams because of your undocumented status? How has DACA changed that?

I always want­ed to enter the med­ical field, but once I real­ized I was undoc­u­ment­ed, I knew I could nev­er pur­sue that dream. Beyond my big dreams, I have faced the dai­ly bar­ri­ers of find­ing employ­ment that pays a liv­able wage. Because of my immi­gra­tion sta­tus and vul­ner­a­ble posi­tion, I was forced to take jobs in con­struc­tion or cater­ing, where I was paid under the table and often under-com­pen­sat­ed for my work. It’s been dif­fi­cult to be inel­i­gi­ble for cer­tain ben­e­fits like health insur­ance or a dri­ver’s license, which oth­ers some­times take for grant­ed. That being said, being undoc­u­ment­ed led me to advo­ca­cy groups like DRUM-South Asian Orga­niz­ing Cen­ter (DRUM), which has giv­en me a place to find com­mu­ni­ty, find my voice, and join in advo­ca­cy efforts for undoc­u­ment­ed youth, includ­ing immi­gra­tion reform.

Hav­ing DACA sta­tus has giv­en me access to bet­ter jobs so that I can pay for school. It has also moti­vat­ed me to be a more vocal activist for undoc­u­ment­ed youth in this coun­try and to edu­cate oth­ers so that they can apply and get sta­tus. DRUM has con­nect­ed me to oth­er South Asian youth and empow­ered me to tell my sto­ry and high­light the plight of exploit­ed immi­grant work­ers, undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents, and fam­i­lies torn apart by the immi­gra­tion sys­tem. Through this work, I was appoint­ed as the New York City Coor­di­na­tor for the Peo­ple’s Glob­al Action on Migra­tion, Devel­op­ment, and Human Rights and con­tin­ue my work at DRUM as their Oper­a­tions Coor­di­na­tor. Despite the adver­si­ty I have faced, I have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to raise the issues undoc­u­ment­ed youth face in Amer­i­ca. I tru­ly believe that peo­ple should not lose their human rights by virtue of cross­ing inter­na­tion­al bor­ders and I con­tin­ue to advo­cate to that end. I feel very for­tu­nate to share my sto­ry and to be involved in this movement.

3. What is your happiest or most vivid childhood memory?

When I was grow­ing up in Trinidad, all of our fam­i­ly would come togeth­er on hol­i­days and spe­cial occa­sions to exchange gifts, cel­e­brate, and have a big meal togeth­er. I was always sur­round­ed by all of my cousins, aunts, and uncles. I miss hav­ing the sup­port of a large extend­ed family.

4. Where do you see yourself in ten years? How would that change if you had status or citizenship?

I am work­ing towards a career in account­ing and finance. In ten years, I hope to have my Cer­ti­fied Pub­lic Account­ing (CPA) license and a thriv­ing career in account­ing. I also hope to con­tin­ue orga­niz­ing in my com­mu­ni­ty and to remain affil­i­at­ed with DRUM. With DACA, my sta­tus and employ­ment autho­riza­tion have to be renewed every two years. So, even if I get a real­ly good job, I remain anx­ious about explain­ing to my employ­er that my sta­tus will need to be renewed every two years. If I had cit­i­zen­ship, I would have more employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, be able to trav­el out­side of the coun­try, and not have a two-year time­line hang­ing over my head.

5. What is one thing that no one knows about you or your most marked characteristic?

One thing that oth­ers may not know about me is that I am very musi­cal. I love singing and play­ing the har­mo­ni­um, which is an Indi­an instru­ment rem­i­nis­cent of an organ. I am learn­ing to play the gui­tar and drums as well.

I also love to help peo­ple. Peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ty feel com­fort­able com­ing to me with their prob­lems and I always make time to assist them. I like hav­ing the chance to sup­port oth­ers in our South Asian com­mu­ni­ty. I know first-hand what a dif­fer­ence com­mu­ni­ty sup­port can make, and I want to pro­vide that to others.

6. If you could ask one question of President Obama, what would it be?

You were able to pass DACA, which has helped many undoc­u­ment­ed youth in this coun­try, but it leaves out our fam­i­lies. How will you keep fam­i­lies togeth­er? How can you ensure that more par­ents and chil­dren aren’t deport­ed so that fam­i­lies aren’t torn apart? What will you to do to address the plight of the 11 mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple liv­ing in the U.S. today?

7. What is your favorite quote?

“It is our duty to fight for our free­dom. It is our duty to win. We must love each oth­er and pro­tect each oth­er. We have noth­ing to lose but our chains.” — Assa­ta Shakur

8. Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your experience in the United States?

I grew up in a work­ing class fam­i­ly in New York City. I nev­er thought I would have an impact on gov­ern­ment poli­cies. Through my strug­gles, how­ev­er, I have found oth­er avenues to express myself. I feel I have a voice in how soci­ety oper­ates and that I can make change hap­pen. I, along with many oth­ers direct­ly affect­ed by our failed immi­gra­tion sys­tem, have met with mem­bers of Con­gress both local­ly and nation­al­ly to push for fair and just immi­gra­tion poli­cies. I firm­ly believe that one per­son can make a dif­fer­ence, no mat­ter their background.