In 2000, Juan Escalante’s parents fled the violence of their native Venezuela. His mother and father, owners of a small print shop, were subject to targeted carjackings and death threats. Finally, enough was enough. They wanted safety for their three young children. So, in search of a better life, they brought Juan and his two younger brothers to Florida. Despite filing all the required paperwork, applying for a green card, and waiting in line like immigrants are often asked to do, the Escalantes’ case fell apart after receiving bad advice from an immigration lawyer.
People think immigrants have this option of getting in a line and waiting their turn. But that’s not true.
Today, although Juan is still undocumented, he continues to work hard and study. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from Florida State University and currently works remotely from Florida as the communications manager for America’s Voice, a nonprofit in Washington, DC, that works to help guarantee labor, civil, and political rights for immigrants and their families.
His immigration status, however, has posed challenges. For most of his life, he could not legally hold a job and used a driver’s license stamped “temporary.” Although he was accepted by several colleges, admissions officers explained that they couldn’t offer him a scholarship without a green card. “My mother was destroyed. She and my dad had sacrificed so much for the American Dream, and now we were landlocked.” Escalante recalls. “I remember being in the admissions office of a university with her crying, and I remember holding her hand and telling her that everything was going to be OK.”
In 2012, things changed for Escalante. That year, the Obama Administration signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order, which grants qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children the right to work, study, and live in the country. Eight hundred thousand young people signed up for the program, went to school, and began earning legal paychecks. But this year, the White House announced plans to end the policy, making the future of Dreamers uncertain again. This would be devastating for young people like Escalante, but it would also represent a significant economic loss for the country.
Earlier estimates suggest that passage of the Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, would add an estimated $329 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030. It would also boost state and federal household income tax revenue $5.6 billion and add $4.6 billion in federal business tax revenue.
Escalante believes there’s a great deal of misunderstanding around immigration policy. “The laws are so complex that they don’t make sense to many people,” he says. “I tend to think that people have a really large misconception as to what the real process is to become a U.S. citizen. People think immigrants have this option of getting in a line and waiting their turn. But that’s not true. The line doesn’t exist for everyone.”
For this reason, Escalante continues his fight for comprehensive immigration reform and passage of the Dream Act — a bill that would grant undocumented young people a pathway to citizenship. “We need a system that allows people to have real opportunities to apply to be in the United States,” he says. “And we need to bring people out of the shadows and allow them to contribute to society and give back. They shouldn’t have to be scared of being deported back to a country that they may be afraid of returning to.”