Don’t take away my chance to thrive as a Dreamer

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By El­iz­a­beth Gar­cia

In Guer­rero, Mex­ico, where I was born, poverty was so wide­spread that fam­i­lies in our vil­lage had to al­ter­nate which houses got wa­ter on a given day. Some­times, we had noth­ing to eat. The liv­ing con­di­tions were so dire, we moved to Florida when I was 10. My par­ents se­cured jobs in green­house nurs­eries, and my sib­lings and I learned English. Slowly, we be­gan to build new lives.

De­spite my hum­ble be­gin­nings, liv­ing in the U.S. has em­pow­ered me to achieve be­yond my wildest dreams. In 2008, I earned my high school diploma. And last year, I grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in so­cial work. Today, I’m the com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing and ad­vo­cacy co­or­di­na­tor at Hope Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in Apopka, a non­profit that sup­ports Cen­tral Florida’s im­mi­grant and work­ing poor com­mu­ni­ties.

But now all this could be taken away. The 2012 De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals or­der, which gives young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants the le­gal right to work and live in this coun­try, made many of my ac­com­plish­ments pos­si­ble.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been try­ing to end DACA since 2017, and last month, the case went be­fore the Supreme Court. If the jus­tices ul­ti­mately side with Trump, then I, along with 800,000 other young im­mi­grants en­rolled in the pro­gram, could be de­ported.

I usu­ally try not to dwell on scary “what ifs.” But I’m ter­ri­fied of be­ing forced back into the shad­ows. As an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant, even a sim­ple trip to the gro­cery store is dan­ger­ous; a traf­fic stop could lead to de­por­ta­tion, es­pe­cially in our ru­ral com­mu­nity where there is no pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

I’ll never for­get what my driver’s ed teacher said to me on the first day of class: “If you’re an il­le­gal alien, you can’t be here.” Every­one else was white, so they knew he was talk­ing about me. That hurt — I’m a per­son, not an alien.

Know­ing I wasn’t ac­cepted was hard. I made my­self into an in­vis­i­ble per­son. I stopped talk­ing in class. I wor­ried that any ex­tra at­ten­tion could cause some­one to call the po­lice and re­port us. My par­ents wanted to sup­port me, but they shared the same fears.

Then my se­nior year, I dis­cov­ered the Hope Com­mu­nity Cen­ter. I met oth­ers like me and started to feel less alone. My men­tors there en­cour­aged me to de­mand more for my life; I be­came more ac­tive in the im­mi­grant rights move­ment and de­cided to take classes at the lo­cal com­mu­nity col­lege, even if I could only af­ford one course per se­mes­ter.

When DACA was an­nounced, I trans­ferred to UCF and com­pleted my bach­e­lor’s de­gree. Hope Cen­ter changed my life. Which is why, as soon as DACA made it le­gal for me to do so, I went to work there. I want to give back to the com­mu­nity that has given me so much.

So many young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants feel this way. There are 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in this coun­try who are el­i­gi­ble for DACA, and more than 90% of us are em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to the im­mi­gra­tion non­profit New Amer­i­can Econ­omy. We fill jobs in in­dus­tries like health care, STEM and con­struc­tion. And 38,000 of us cre­ate jobs as en­trepreneur­s.

Na­tion­ally, we earn $19.9 bil­lion in in­come an­nu­ally, and pay $3 bil­lion in taxes. Florida, which has the na­tion’s third­largest DACA-el­i­gi­ble pop­u­la­tion, re­ceives a big chunk of that; here, DACA re­cip­i­ents earn $1.5 bil­lion in in­come and pay $256.6 mil­lion in taxes. If you need proof of our value, th­ese num­bers are it.

Dream­ers weren’t born in Amer­ica, but we grew up as Amer­i­cans. We’ve been granted le­gal per­mis­sion to build our lives here. To re­scind DACA now will not only hurt us, but also the em­ploy­ers we work for, the peo­ple who work for us, and the com­mu­ni­ties we call home.

What­ever hap­pens, I will re­main in this coun­try and con­tinue to in­vest here. But the Supreme Court shouldn’t be de­ter­min­ing how much. The ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans want Dream­ers pro­tected, which means it’s Congress’ job to make that hap­pen.

To our rep­re­sen­ta­tives: Don’t cheat us by your in­ac­tion. We’re work­ing hard on be­half of this coun­try; you should do the same.

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