When Blanca Carrillo Salmeron, an undocumented immigrant in Norman, Oklahoma, received protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order in 2013, a year after it was signed, the whole family breathed a sigh of relief. Carrillo Salmeron’s parents were also undocumented, and they had four other children — then between the ages of 7 and 16 and all born in the United States — to care for. Now, if they were to be deported, Carrillo Salmeron, a university graduate and insurance agency representative, would be able to take care of the family.
“Since I got DACA, I’ve always been somewhat ready to take on a parental role, and my parents have trained me to do so because they’ve been optimistic that I’ll be able to stay here,” Carrillo Salmeron said four years later. “But I’m 23, so it is terrifying to think that one day I could just wake up and be a parent of four. It would be a huge struggle for all of us. My siblings don’t deserve that.”
DACA has allowed me to be more independent. It’s given me the opportunity to get a job, which I wasn’t able to do before. Now I can sustain myself.
Carrillo Salmeron came to the United States from Mexico as a baby, so she didn’t understand the repercussions of being undocumented until she was in high school. Classmates got their driver’s licenses and went on school trips without fear. “I felt like I was hiding, and that wasn’t easy,” she says.
Then, in September 2017, President Donald Trump announced he would end the protection order unless Congress took action. Now that the future of DACA is uncertain, the family is again afraid for the future. “I didn’t choose this path, but this is my home just as much as it is a natural born citizen’s home,” Carrillo Salmeron says. “I went to school here. I work here. I pay taxes here. I have relationships here.”
DACA not only shields undocumented immigrants like Carrillo Salmeron from deportation, it also authorizes them to legally work in the United States. They can also get a drivers license, rent an apartment, open a bank account, and build up credit. After obtaining DACA, Carrillo Salmeron did all of these things. “DACA has allowed me to be more independent. It’s given me the opportunity to get a job, which I wasn’t able to do before. Now I can sustain myself.”
Still, DACA must be renewed every two years, at a cost of $495. When Carrillo Salmeron’s DACA status was up for renewal in 2017, money was tight. She tried to get a loan from a credit union but was turned away. “They said they could not help me if I was not a U.S. citizen,” she says. “I’ve worked in banks and I know that’s not true.”
In the end, the generosity of strangers and friends, who contributed to a GoFundMe account, allowed Carrillo Salmeron to maintain documented status in the United States for two more years. “The community here is really great,” she says. This kindness inspired Carrillo Salmeron to help organize fundraisers through an art collective for other people’s DACA renewals, with the money donated to Dream Act Oklahoma. “I just want to help where I can,” she says.
In fact, America’s DACA recipients contribute in ways most people don’t realize. When Barack Obama started the initiative in 2012, it was projected to add $329 billion to the national economy and create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030. Now experts project that ending the program could cost the economy up to $200 billion. DACA recipients are entering their peak earning years, and the same study put tax losses to the federal government at $60 billion. Meanwhile, young people like Carrillo Salmeron are stuck in limbo as Congress dukes it out.
Carrillo Salmeron wants to see immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and their families. “Oklahoma is my home,” Carrillo Salmeron says. “My friendships are here, my family is here, my job is here, I’m part of the community here.” Without DACA, “I’d probably lose my job and wouldn’t be able to commute as easily. I would go back to being as scared as I was before. But a lot of people are doing amazing things to try and make policy changes, so I haven’t lost hope.”