For now, Sara Hamdi works the delivery counter at a Dayton, Ohio, Olive Garden. But the 27-year-old undocumented immigrant dreams of going back to school, studying business, and one day opening her own restaurant. “I’d like to bring some heart into this world, and I feel like food brings a lot of people together,” she says.
Born in Morocco, Hamdi came to the United States with her family when she was 5 years old. She is now a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 policy that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to temporarily live and work in the country legally. But in the fall of 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind DACA. Unless Congress takes action, the future of young Dreamers like Hamdi are at risk.
Hamdi has little memory of Morocco and cannot speak or write Arabic. She can’t imagine what it would mean to leave the United States. “This the only home I have ever known. My best friends are here. Everything I know is here,” she says.
I would like our elected officials to put themselves in our shoes. How would they feel if they were put in a place they have never known?
Even if she is able to stay, losing DACA would mean giving up her entrepreneurial goals — and her ability to make important contributions to the U.S. economy. Immigrants start new companies at higher rates in the United States than do U.S.-born residents, as do DACA-eligible youths. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and, of those, 4.5 percent are entrepreneurs with a combined annual business income of $659 million, a significant boost to local economies across the country.
Hamdi didn’t fully understand what it meant to be undocumented until one morning in 2007, when she was 17 years old. That day, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents came to her home and took her mother into detention, saying her mother had failed to show up for a court date. Her mother had no knowledge of the court appointment, however; the notice from immigration officials had been sent to her former address several years earlier. She spent five months in detention before she was released without a single charge or explanation.
In the interim, it was left to Hamdi to take on much of the care for her three younger siblings while her father worked long hours to support the family. Her youngest sibling was 5 years old at the time, and he has Down Syndrome and a heart defect. “I pretty much had to take over my mom’s role, and I missed a lot of school days that year,” she says. “I barely passed my junior year.”
The trauma of that incident, combined with her undocumented status, made it hard for Hamdi to focus on her future. After graduating from high school, she studied nursing for a year at Sinclair Community College before realizing that, although wanted to help people, working with blood and needles wasn’t for her. After that, she worked odd jobs, the lack of a work permit and a driver’s license limiting her options.
After she received DACA, however, Hamdi was able to get jobs at a restaurant and as a salesperson for a cell-phone company.“My father works 13-hour days, and my mother cares for my brother. After I got DACA, I was able to take some of the stress off my parents. In my family, we work together,” she says.
In addition to opening a restaurant one day, Hamdi would like to start a nonprofit for Dreamers like herself. “I like knowing that know my voice can be heard, and I want to show others that their voices can be heard,” she says.
At the same time, she has real fears about the possibility of being deported. “I would like our elected officials to put themselves in our shoes,” she says. “How would they feel if they were put in a place they have never known? How would they manage if they were stuck in a place where they didn’t speak the language or know anyone? That is what they are going to do to us Dreamers. They are going to throw us somewhere and not care. That’s not humane.”