Cesar Rodriguez is an accomplished 24-year-old. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, works full time as a design engineer, owns two homes, in Nashville, Tennessee, and does volunteer work with young people. But next year, unless Congress takes action, Rodriguez could be forced to leave his job, his homes, his family, and the country he has called home since the age of 5.
Rodriguez is a Dreamer, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States as a child, and since 2012 he has been protected from deportation and allowed to legally work in the United States by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). So when the Trump administration announced in 2017 that it would end DACA in 2018 unless Congress stepped in, Rodriguez was floored. “I was really frustrated because to apply you have to give out all of your information; they know where I live, where I went to school, everything about me,” he says. “So I gave up my privacy for a chance to be able to work here in the United States, and now my DACA is set to expire in 2019.”
My future is really uncertain at this point. Our lives are in Congress’ hands and they haven’t made a decision yet and that’s really stressful.
Rodriguez is one of the 1.3 million young people who are currently eligible for DACA and one of the roughly 27,000 DACA-eligible individuals who have held jobs in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), fields in which the United States faces a growing and critical shortage of skilled workers. His parents, too, have served in fields that depend on foreign-born labor: his mother in administrative support in healthcare, and his father in construction. In the Nashville metro area, foreign-born workers like the Rodriguezes pay $844 million in taxes annually and hold $2.6 billion in spending power.
“We’ve all done our best to be productive members of our communities, to have jobs that provide for our loved ones,” says Rodriguez, who would like to see immigration reform that offers a pathway to citizenship for both Dreamers and their parents. “To have the two pillars of my whole life taken away from me, I wouldn’t know what to do.” Rodriguez also has three younger brothers, one of whom is a DACA recipient and two of whom are U.S. citizens. “I wouldn’t want families to be separated.”
Rodriguez says he often hears Americans say: Well, why didn’t you apply for a pathway to citizenship? “But there is no path,” he says. “If there was a line, I’d be standing in it. It doesn’t exist.”
It is up to Congress to create such a path, he says, and soon. “I’m a homeowner, I got a degree from Lipscomb University, I got a job in my field, I’m trying to contribute to the economy and be a productive member of society, and for whatever reason that’s not being taken into account,” Rodriguez says. “My future is really uncertain at this point. Our lives are in Congress’ hands and they haven’t made a decision yet and that’s really stressful.”