With the government shutdown continuing, pundits are asking whetherPresident Trump might resurrect a deal that came tantalizingly close last year: reopening the government and funding a border wall in exchange for protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, the young undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children, but who now face deportation back to countries they’ve never known.
Polls show that such a compromise would be extraordinarily popular, even with Trump’s base — and even if the deal doesn’t come to pass, the new Democratic-led Congress appears determined to find a solution for the Dreamers. Many of the freshmen lawmakers were elected to replace Republicans who ran on anti-immigrant platforms, so there’s a new energy behind efforts to protect our country’s 800,000 young Dreamers.
That’s good news for South Carolina’s 8,885 DACA-eligible young people, who have been living in legal limbo since Trump nixed DACA in late 2017. I should know: I’m one of them. When I was four years old, my mother brought me from our home in northeastern Mexico to South Carolina to visit my father — a trained accountant who had crossed the border two years earlier, and found work as a plumber in order to support our family.
We entered the U.S. as tourists, but once my mother saw her husband again, she knew she couldn’t bear to leave him. We overstayed our visas, and I’ve been in South Carolina ever since.
I went to public schools in Columbia, where my grades qualified me for a scholarship to attend Midlands Technical College — but as a non-citizen, I couldn’t have accepted the scholarship, and couldn’t afford to pay out-of-state tuition rates. Fortunately, I had other options: When I was 15, I’d gained protection under DACA, receiving a Social Security number and the right to work legally without fear of deportation. In 2017, I joined a team of hospital-based interpreters. I accompany doctors on their rounds and work in emergency rooms at Palmetto Health Richland, Palmetto Health Baptist, and Palmetto Health Parkridge, helping medical staff communicate with Spanish-speaking patients.
I love my work. In my own small way, I’m helping to lower the cost of health care: A 2010 study found that miscommunication in health care settings leads to waste that costs the country $12.4 billion each year, at a per-hospital cost of about $4 million. And more than anything, it’s fulfilling simply to know that I’m making life easier for the doctors and nurses who work so hard in our city’s hospitals.
That’s why I was so distressed by President Trump’s desire to end DACA and potentially begin deporting Dreamers like me. There are over 800,000 of us who have grown up in America and know no other home. More than 90 percent of us are gainfully employed, often in crucial and underserved occupations, according to research from New American Economy. More than 17,000 of us work in hospitals, for instance. In total, we pay $1.4 billion a year in federal taxes and more than $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. More than one in six of the DACA-eligible population have gained bachelor’s or master’s degrees. We are deeply invested in this country; we want nothing more than to keep on working and contributing.
Ending DACA is devastating to all Dreamers, but it’s especially dire for me — a transgender man — and the 8.6 percent of Dreamers who identify as LGBTQ. Growing up LGBTQ is never easy, but I’ve felt safe and welcome here in Columbia. In Mexico, I’m genuinely afraid of what would happen to me. According to Transgender Europe, almost four-fifths of all murders of transgender people are committed in Latin America. Mexico has the second-highest murder rate for transgender people in the world, and across the region transgender people have a life expectancy of just 35 years, compared to 75 for the population as a whole.
Statistics suggest there are well over 750 young DACA-eligible LGBTQ people living in the Palmetto State, many from places that are far less tolerant than here. Without a solution to the DACA crisis, we face deportation to hostile countries, where we are at serious risk of becoming the targets of violent hate-crimes.
That’s why I’m hoping our representatives in Congress will put politics aside, and seize this opportunity to both resolve the shutdown, and come together to find a real solution for DACA recipients. The lives of hundreds of South Carolinian Dreamers may depend on it.
Danny Flores is a Columbia-based DACA recipient.