Ecuadorian immigrant Edison Suasnavas is part of Silicon Slopes—a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) hot spot that is propelling Utah’s economy. He holds a master’s degree in animal science from Utah State University and works as a molecular oncologist at Arup Laboratories, in Salt Lake City, processing biological samples. “I want to give back,” Suasnavas says. “I try to treat people’s blood and bone marrow specimens with as much care as possible. We try to release the results as soon as possible, because I know that an early diagnosis can save a life.”
Suasnavas is also an undocumented immigrant. His parents brought him to the United States from Quito, Ecuador, when he was 13 years old in search of better economic opportunities. His current job was made possible only because of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 policy that gives qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children a temporary reprieve from deportation and legal authorization to work.
It doesn’t make sense that I’m considering applying all this knowledge that I’ve gotten here to another country.
Without DACA, Suasnavas would be forced to leave his job, hardly a benefit to the national economy given that the U.S. is facing a critical shortage of STEM workers. After the White House announced in the fall of 2017 that it would rescind DACA by March 2018 unless Congress takes action, Suasnavas began to make drastic contingency plans. “I’m considering immigration to a country like Canada, because I don’t want my 2-year-old daughter, who was born here, to see me get deported,” he says. Suasnavas has no desire to leave the country he has called home for 19 years, but he knows that if the United States does not want his specialized skill set, another country will.
“This place has given me so much, and I’m so grateful,” he says. “I’ve even met my wife,” — a Mexican immigrant studying law on a student visa — “had a daughter, and found my faith in the Church of Latter-day Saints here,” he says. “I received my education in Utah on a scholarship for first-generation minority students, so it doesn’t make sense that I’m considering applying all this knowledge that I’ve gotten here to another country.”