In 2016, when Laura Perez was granted the right to legally work in the United States, she was finally able to come out of the shadows and,contribute more to her community and family. Perez is one of Utah’s more than 13,600 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 policy that provides qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children temporary legal status. After receiving DACA, Perez switched jobs, from a cashier for a fast-food chain to a mail processor at ClearSource, a customer service agency.
DACA also allowed her twin bother to become a manager for a Chick-fil-A restaurant. Together, they help their mother, a housekeeper, pay the rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Sandy they share with three brothers. They have only had the apartment for five years, after they were forced to spend nearly a year at a domestic violence shelter to escape their violent father during high school. It is because of this father that their mother chose to hire a “coyote” to smuggle her and the children across the U.S. border 16 years ago, when the twins were 4 years old. But the father followed a few years later.
Even receiving their DACA authorization two years ago was a hard-won victory. “My Mom busted her ass by working two jobs to pay the nearly $1,000 in application fees,” Perez says. “I couldn’t believe it when we received the approval in the mail.” Perez is grateful for the regular salary, and she says legal status has been a boost to her self-esteem. “I felt so held back. I felt like people looked at us and thought ‘We’re not part of this country,’ ” she says. “DACA opened up the world to me. I finally felt like I had an identity as an American.”
I want to go to college, start a family, buy a house, and not have to live in fear anymore.
DACA also gave Perez the chance to dream of a better life. She is now saving to apply to college, where she plans to study education and become an elementary school teacher. This would be an important contribution to Utah, because the state is facing a severe teacher shortage. And with an education, Perez will be able to increase her salary and pay more into tax coffers. Already, 90 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 annually pay almost $2.5 billion into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans.
However, since the current administration announced late in 2017 that it would phase out DACA by March 2018 unless Congress takes action, Perez has felt paralyzed. “If I lost DACA, I would live in fear of being deported,” she says. “I want to go to college, start a family, buy a house, and not have to live in fear anymore.”