Carolina Hernandez-Arango is a business-administration major in her final year at Wichita State University. She is also a mother of two, a community organizer — and a Dreamer, brought to the United States from Mexico by her parents when she was 3 years old to receive urgent medical treatment. Now, without action by Congress and the White House, she could face deportation — putting her at risk not only of losing her education and career, but also custody of her two children, who were born in this country.
“We’re contributing so much — not just financially, but also by going to school and becoming nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers,” Hernandez-Arango says. “We’re all becoming the people this country needs.”
We’re contributing so much to the economy, and to this country we call home.
When Hernandez-Arango was a toddler, she started to suffer the dangerous effects of a heart murmur. Unable to find adequate care in Mexico, her parents traveled to the United States, where they found a doctor in Wichita, Kansas, willing to treat her on a payment plan. “It was because of that doctor that I got better,” says Hernandez-Arango, who is now 22 and healthy. “I know where my parents were coming from, to take that risk to try to save their kid,” she says. “Anyone who has a kid will do what it takes to give their child a better future.”
Hernandez-Arango did not even know she was undocumented until she was 12. That’s when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials raided her family’s home as part of a neighborhood roundup. Nobody in Hernandez-Arango’s family was detained — her father wasn’t home, and her mother had a state-issued ID that satisfied the agents — but she saw many of her neighbors led away in handcuffs, a disturbing experience that left a deep impression.
Later, Hernandez-Arango was excluded from high school advanced biology classes, which required a Social Security number, and unable to take drivers’ education. Still, she persevered, and in 2013 received protection under the newly implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has shielded her from deportation, allowed her to work legally, and let her finally get a driver’s license. “It meant I was temporarily secure,” she says.
Since then, Hernandez-Arango has built a life for herself in Kansas. In her work as a community organizer, she meets many other DACA recipients, and says it would be an enormous loss to the country if they were all ordered to leave. According to New American Economy data, DACA recipients pay $3 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes and pay some $2.5 billion annually into the Medicare and Social Security funds. Hernandez-Arango says she dreams of one day working for a national nonprofit, in order to help as many people as possible. “We’re contributing so much to the economy, and to this country we call home,” she says. “We’ve been here so long, and we’ve registered with the government and passed background checks. To take that all away doesn’t make sense to me.”
For her part, Hernandez-Arango has no idea what she would do were she forced to leave the United States. It is the only country she can ever remember calling home. Her siblings are U.S. citizens, as are her children. She can’t imagine DACA ending and potentially having to move her two children to Mexico to be with them. “If it doesn’t get resolved, it would tear our world apart,” she says.