California Forum

I came to the United States as a child long before DACA, and no one asked for my papers. Then again, I’m white.

I once was a Dreamer, or something very like one. I was brought to the United States by my parents when I was six. Long before there was such a thing as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, we crossed the border at Fargo, N.D., in my father’s new Henry J. This was no Ellis Island for us. We had visited Dakota before. As usual, the guard just waved us through. As was our custom, my brother and I scrambled to the back window and waved back.

This time the trip was longer, not just a weekend away. We drove all the way from Manitoba to the West Coast, to my aunt’s house in Cotati. California was flourishing with fruit. My father and my mother first picked prunes and then worked other odd jobs. Once we settled, Pop worked as a telegrapher agent for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and Mom, as a doctor’s assistant.

I had been in Grade One when we left Canada and started second grade here. I learned to say “zee” instead of “zed” and spell “theater” without an “re” on the end. I became accustomed to Thanksgiving in November and Christmas without snow. No one talked about whether we had papers. Year after year, I looked forward to the Fourth of July fireworks as my memory of the Queen’s birthday faded in their glare.

I was about 15 when my mother called me into her room. She gave me a card. It wasn’t then really green. It was more of a pale blue. She said I had to carry it with me wherever I went and once a year go to the U.S. Post Office and register as an immigrant. I don’t know when my parents got theirs. They went to the post office to each year until they respectively died.

I was proud to have my card; it was the first time I had an ID. I had it with me when I took my brother’s car for a drive. Up Guerneville Highway on my way to the coast, a policeman stopped me. The car had no license plate on the rear. He asked me for my driver’s license and I had to admit I didn’t have one. I was only fifteen and a half. He said, “Well, let me see some ID,” and I handed him my green card. He handed me a ticket for driving without a license and told me to turn around and drive straight home. I went to court and the judge told me my sentence: “Get your license the day you turn 16 and until then, don’t take your brother’s car.”

Two years after high school graduation, I filled out an application and stood again before the judge. I swore allegiance to this country and was made a citizen of what had always seemed my home.

What is the difference between me and the young DACA’s of today? Sixty years in time and an indescribably racist system. I could walk safely in comfort without any fears. I could be forgiven for my youthful imprudence without it becoming a crime. I never had to worry my parents would be taken or that someone was following them.

Then again, my skin was pale. My hair was blonde and my eyes were blue, not brown like the beautiful eyes and skin of this century’s Dreamers. They registered their dreams for tomorrow as they were told they could do, and now they have to shudder and wonder what the capricious thoughts of others will do to them next year. Shouldn’t they, as I did, have a path to citizenship and the chance to achieve their promise and the American dream?

Carla Jacobs, a veteran mental health advocate living in Southern California, was born in Canada and is a naturalized citizen. She can be reached at