Angel Reyes Rivas, the co-founder of a thriving technology company, has sacrificed more than most to become an educated, middle-class professional. When he was in high school, his mother was pulled over for driving without a license. As an undocumented immigrant from Peru, she was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sent to jail, and later deported. Reyes Rivas, just 18 at the time, was forced to drop out of school to support himself and his 13-year-old brother. “It was a very difficult time,” says Reyes Rivas, who lives in Glen Cove, New York, a city on the North Shore of Long Island. “I did about a thousand things. I worked at a bagel place and a country club. I did kitchen work, landscaping, cleaning.”
Eventually, he saved enough money to purchase a plane ticket to send his brother back to Peru. That was in 2008. He hasn’t seen his brother — or his mother — since.
That is because Reyes Rivas is also undocumented and cannot leave the country without risking his own deportation. Though he misses his family terribly, he cannot now imagine returning to Peru, a country he has not visited since he left at age 15. “I love the United States, and I consider it home, but I also believe that if I was to get deported it would be a loss for the country,” he says. “The challenges I have faced because of my legal status have made me a stronger person, and anywhere I’ll go, I will fight for success and the well-being of my community.”
At this moment, there are reasonable people and senators who are behind the Dreamers. They know that they are contributing.
Ever since his family left, Reyes Rivas has worked hard to build a life here. He got his high-school equivalency diploma and later enrolled at Nassau Community College (NCC), where he got a degree in mathematics.
While he was at NCC, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, which grants qualifying undocumented immigrants brought to the country as young children a renewable two-year deportation waiver and the ability to legally work in the United States. Reyes Rivas was grateful for the opportunity to become a DACA recipient, or Dreamer, as they are known. “I was very thankful for DACA, knowing that I wouldn’t have to be afraid of deportation after everything that happened with my family,” he says.
In 2016, while Reyes Rivas was still an NCC student, he launched his technical service and repair company, PHOrep, with three partners. By the fall of 2017, the company, which serves public schools and companies in Long Island and Queens, had three clients and was contracting with more than 10 Long Island suppliers and other businesses. At that time, Reyes Rivas’ share of the business was bringing him about $42,000 annually. Combined with his second job, as community organizer for the advocacy group LatinoJustice, his income was high enough for him to start shopping for a car and saving for a house.
As a hardworking entrepreneur, Reyes Rivas is typical of his DACA cohorts. Ninety percent of DACA recipients who are 16 or older are employed. Of those ages 16 to 34, 4.5 percent are entrepreneurs, compared to only 3.9 percent of the corresponding U.S.-born population.
As a New York State resident, Rivas is also part of a cohort of immigrants entrepreneurs who punch above their weight. Although the foreign-born make up just 22.6 percent of the state’s population, they comprise 32.7 percent of its entrepreneurs. From 2007 to 2011, 42 percent of the state’s new businesses were formed by immigrants. In Rivas’ congressional district, immigrants are nearly 30 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs than are U.S.–born residents.
Reyes Rivas has confidence that the U.S. government will continue to support young immigrants like himself, either through DACA or legislation like the Dream Act. But he notes that many of his peers are extremely anxious. “Many DACA recipients don’t understand the political system behind things. There has been a lot of fear and a lot of tears,” he says.
He hopes to see comprehensive immigration reform, as he believes it is the right direction for the country, from both a moral and an economic standpoint. In the meantime, he is optimistic about the future of Dreamers. “I completely understand the argument that Obama used an executive order when it should have been a bipartisan effort from Congress,” he says. “But we have to remember that in 2011 and 2012 Congress was against anything that Obama wanted to pass.”
For Dreamers, the political climate has changed for the better, he believes. “At this moment, there are reasonable people and senators who are behind the Dreamers,” he says. “They know that they are contributing, so I have a positive attitude about the future of The Dream Act — and for Dreamers like me.”