Elvis Saldias knew when he was 9 years old and his mother brought him to the United States from Bolivia that he was from then on classified an undocumented immigrant. “As a kid, it always weighed on me. I was paranoid and afraid of the police,” he says. “It definitely made me feel different from my classmates.”
He also knew, as he got older, that his employment options were limited as a result. Nonetheless, he worked hard. The day after he received his high school diploma, in 2010, Saldias got up at 6 a.m. and headed to the fields to plant and harvest tomatoes.
Two years, later, however, the Department of Homeland Security implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), a 2012 policy that allows qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to defer deportation for renewable two-year periods and to work legally in the United States. Suddenly, college and a professional career were within Saldias’ grasp.
We pay taxes that go to our schools and the military. All we’re asking for in return is the chance to continue doing what we’re doing.
The following summer, he put in 15-hours days to save for college tuition: From 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. he would work at an Ohio aluminum foundry; and from 3 p.m. to 10 pm. he would work as a restaurant cook. When the summer ended and he began taking classes toward an associate’s degree, he took a single job, as a forklift driver. By the time he was ready to advance to a four-year university, he had saved $25,000, all the tuition he would need to finish his education at Ohio State University. He graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
Today Saldias works as a property claims adjuster for Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, and he is still saving, this time for graduate school. He wonders, however, whether his goal to reach his greatest potential will now be possible. In September 2017, the White House announced it would phase out DACA by March 2018. Unless Congress takes action, more than 800,000 young people like Saldias who have already received DACA, and 1 million more who could potentially later qualify, could lose the legal right to work in the United States, posing a blow not only to these Dreamers but to businesses and local economies.
Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and combined these Dreamers pay $3 billion in taxes every year and pay almost $2.5 billion annually into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans. The percentage of Dreamers who work is even higher — 91.3 percent — in Ohio, where collectively they paid $14.7 million in combined state and local taxes in 2015 and $28.8 million once federal taxes were included.
Thanks to DACA, today Saldias can pursue a professional career commensurate with his abilities, which not only earns him more money but also increases his spending power in the community and his tax contributions, even though, as a Dreamer, he is not eligible for many of the social programs his taxes help fund. “I paid over $17,000 in taxes last year. That is a significant contribution from an individual who doesn’t see much of that back,” says Saldias. “I’ve been paying into the system for years, yet people continue to accuse DACA recipients of not paying taxes.”
Saldias hopes his representatives in Congress will stand up for Dreamers like him. “I would love to see Sen. (Rob) Portman take a public stand on this issue,” he says. “We pay taxes that go to our schools and the military. All we’re asking for in return is the chance to continue doing what we’re doing.”