My name is Tabitha Sookdeo, and I’m 20 years old. I was born in a third world country called Guyana. When I was 13 days old, I immigrated to Saint Maarten — a beautiful island in the Dutch Caribbean. From here appeared a foreshadowing of struggles. My father lived on the island for more than 20 years, and they never issued him an opportunity to get his citizenship, much less a status of permanent residency. However, he legally owned a construction business and paid taxes. When I turned 13 years old, the government refused to renew my stay. I attended school from kindergarten to 8th grade. I spoke their language of instruction, and I was recognized by the government as a top student. My family even helped to run a local ministry.
To move back to Guyana would be regression. Our lawyer recommended that we come to the U.S. so that my sister and I could go to school, because I was not allowed to attend high school on the island due to my legal status. My parents put our education first because they never had a chance to go to college. My mother never even finished high school. She had to drop out in 10th grade to work in order to take care of her family. My parents reacted in the best way they knew. All they wanted was for us to become the best that we could be. Our lawyer said that we would get our green card soon after graduation. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We were beyond terrified to say the least. My parents took a leap of faith. They even started double their tithes. It was our only option at the time for a better life. We bought a house in Florida and tried to live our lives day to day. We went through trials: my parents not finding work, seeing my dad cry because he could not provide for us. Yet, it did not matter. I pushed through school every day while doing the rigorous academic International Baccalaureate Program at Ridgeview High School. I kept myself as busy as humanly possible through joining Amnesty International, The National Honor Society, The Spanish National Honor Society, The International Thespian Society, The Bollywood Dance Team, cross country, and soccer all at the same time! I got involved with the community in participating with the local Rotary Club. I started a service club called the Interact Club at my high school. We visited nursing homes for Christmas and fundraised money for breast cancer and polio victims. Every year, I participate in the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards.
All I did was push myself to be the best. I graduated with a weighted 4.6 GPA as a Summa Cum Laude, with more than 500 hours of community service, a high school diploma, and an IB Diploma. I never told anyone at school until it was time to graduate. I was ashamed. I felt like everyone was moving forward while I remained behind in the background, in the shadows of existence. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t exist just because I don’t have the necessary documents.
I stay faithful to God. It gets difficult at times. I trust that all things will work together for the good because I love God. Now, I serve as an administrator for my church specializing in media: I play guitar on the worship team and I coordinate our social outreach program. Last month, I saved up just enough money to take a class at a community college walking distance from me. All I could afford was one class since I have to pay triple tuition. After registering and doing orientation, they told me that I was not allowed to attend their school, and if I don’t have a social security number, I don’t belong there. It was a stab to my heart. I wasn’t asking for money or arguing to pay in-state tuition. I just wanted to take an English Literature class. I had 47 college credit hours from doing IB and AP work in high school, and I only need two semesters to get my associates degree.
It is only through God that I get through the discouragement of my daily life. I look to my dreams and I know that God has a plan for me. God does not forsake those who love him, nor those that are righteous in God’s name. I know that suffering produces endurance. God has delivered me from a heavy heart and from a deep pit of fear. God has sustained me by enveloping me in love and by proving time and time again that he is God.
Joseph was given a dream. He had to go through much, and things became much worse before they became better. I went to Washington, D.C., through World Relief to speak about my experience. A week later, after I gave my speech, word got out in my town that I was discriminated at the school. Sure enough, I received a phone call and an apology. The college changed their policy for undocumented immigrants at all of their campuses. Now, I am allowed to pay in-state tuition. God always shows his greatness in times of need. I will start school for the first time in two years. I am taking four classes this semester, which means that I can transfer to a state university in January! My sister has been given the opportunity to start school as well. After the great news, my sister and I were awarded a scholarship from our local Rotary Club.
There is still a great amount of work to be done in immigration reform. Many dreamers are still not able to attend school. Families are still being separated. However, miracles are real. All we have to do is step out in faith and believe God in his abundant grace. This is the season for abundance. It is abundance of change. No matter what happens and no matter how hard it gets, I will continue to praise God and I will continue to serve him wholeheartedly. I could not imagine it any other way. All honor belongs to God. I will forever rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer.
Tabitha Sookdeo lives in Orange Park, Fla. She is pursuing Political Science in college and hopes to integrate social justice with diplomacy.