'We are American': Alberta-born 'Dreamer' will fight deportation in U.S.
'We are American in every single sense, except by virtue of birth'
Leezia Dhalla never thought of herself as an undocumented immigrant, but every day she lives in fear of deportation.
Born in Edmonton, raised in Texas, she is among thousands of "American Dreamers" facing looming deportation from the United States.
The uncertainty is crippling, she said.
"It's been more than 20 years, and today I find myself undocumented because the American immigration system is so broken and outdated," Dhalla said in an interview Wednesday on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
"To me, it feels like mental gymnastics. There is a lot of uncertainty for the Dreamers."
"It's traumatizing. It's devastating for people."
Dhalla has been able to work legally and attend college under the auspices of a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The program, initiated by former president Barack Obama, offers work authorization and protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived as children and have clean criminal records.
In six months, the Trump administration will stop renewing protections, and 80,000 people will be forced to repatriate.
'This is our home'
Dhalla has lived in the United States since she was six years old.
Her family moved to San Antonio in 1996 with an approved visa, and was eventually granted an investor visa for business operators.
Her parents were struggling financially in Alberta, and thought the move would afford their young family more opportunities.
They immediately began the arduous process of gaining permanent residency, Dhalla said, but after years of bureaucracy, lawyer fees and thousands of dollars in legal costs, their citizenship approval never came.
She hopes Congress will pass a "Dream Act" that would allow "Dreamers" like her to gain full citizenship.
"This is our home," said Dhalla, who now lives in Washington but still speaks with slight Texan twang.
"We are productive members of society and it is unfair to pull the rugs out from under us after we have come out of the shadows and handed over our personal information so we could be granted those DACA protections."
"Trump has decided to end the program, which will not only be an economic disaster but morally devastating for the entire country."
Dhalla was in junior year of university, studying political science at Northwestern University in Illinois, when her family was told their time in the United States was up.
It was a huge relief when DACA was announced in 2012 on her graduation day.
'We are going to keep fighting'
The system failed her family, and criminalized her parents, said Dhalla, whose DACA protections will expire in May.
She is fearful about the fate of other "Dreamers" if a generation of young immigrants is forced to return to countries they've never known.
Families, husbands and wives, children and parents, will be separated.
"We are integral parts of this country in our communities," she said. "We serve in the military, we are nurses, we are teachers, we are engineers.
"We are American in every single sense, except by virtue of birth. So as a group we are going to keep fighting."