Axel did not know he was an undocumented immigrant until he started high school. His parents had brought him and his brother to the United States from Guatemala when he was 6 years old, and, as he got older, the Sioux Falls resident assumed he had the same rights as his U.S.-born peers. “The news was such a shock,” he says. ”I felt a lot of doors close when I found that out, so I decided to work as hard as I could to overcome those challenges.”
I feel a sense of duty to protect this country because I’ve lived here for most of my life and feel like an American.
In 2012, a door swung open. That was the year the Obama administration signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that temporarily defers deportation and provides work authorization to qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Axel could now work legally, which he did as a dishwasher on nights and weekends to save money for college. He also could apply for a driver’s license and get car insurance. He started attending Southeast Technical Institute to study computer network security and dreamed of working for the U.S. military in counter-security operations. “I feel a sense of duty to protect this country because I’ve lived here for most of my life and feel like an American,” says Axel, now 20. “I want to work in military security and help protect our troops.”
Then in September 2017, the Trump administration announced it was ending DACA, and Congress has so far failed to offer a legislative solution. Axel’s hopes have been shaken. “With DACA, I felt a sense a security. When I learned it was getting repealed, I was heartbroken,” he says. “I thought, ‘I’ve worked so hard and now everything is being stripped away.”
Without DACA, Axel would not be able to work for the military, despite the fact that the U.S. Armed Forces needs more recruits trained in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The state would also lose the $12.2 million in annual gross domestic product that South Dakota’s more than 250 DACA recipients generate. “DACA people bring a lot of assets. We’re bilingual and bring a lot to the culture and community,” Axel says. His parents had moved to Sioux Falls, for example, to fill the manual labor jobs at an area pork processing plant that employers have difficulty filling with U.S.-born workers.
Axel is on track to graduate in June. He had planned to finish his undergraduate education in information technology at a nearby four-year university, but those dreams are now on hold. “The end of DACA would tear people’s lives apart,” he says. “We’re not criminals. We’re just trying to contribute and give back what was given to us.”