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