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Grecia Chavira, guest columnist: Living in limbo in the land of the free

This op-ed was originally featured in the Waco Tribune-Herald

In my junior year at University High School, I considered dropping my plans to attend college, even though I was ranked at the top of my class. As an undocumented immigrant — my family came here from Mexico when I was age 8 — I realized that even if I found a way to fund my tuition, I would not be permitted to work after graduation.

I remember telling a teacher: “Why am I going to go to college if I can’t even get a job afterward?”

She told me that I had to hope something would change in my favor.

Fortunately, I listened to that teacher. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented immigrants who came here as children, known as Dreamers, to live and work here legally. By that time, I had graduated as University High’s valedictorian and received full scholarships to attend McLennan Community College and Baylor University.

With my education — and, vitally, with DACA — I could then get a good job. In 2015, I returned to my hometown to teach second-grade bilingual education in Waco. It’s a dream come true. I love Waco and I love watching our small town grow.

Unfortunately, in the fall of 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind DACA. Unless Congress takes action, more than 800,000 young people like me risk losing our DACA status.

College-educated, DACA-eligible young people fill crucial roles in the U.S. economy as accountants, nurses and teachers. Research from New American Economy finds that 90 percent of this demographic segment who are 16 and older are employed, contributing more than $1.4 billion in federal taxes and more than $1.6 billion in state and local taxes in the United States.

Before DACA was introduced, I had to limit my professional ambitions. Initially a business major, I couldn’t become an accountant because I needed a Social Security number to take the Certified Public Accountant Exam. (The latter pursuit was a particularly frustrating setback, given that the United States actually has a shortage of CPAs.) I also was unable to participate in Baylor University’s robust internship program. My undocumented status prevented me from taking even an unpaid position with the school’s corporate partners.

After the DACA announcement, I was so happy I cried. It felt like the sun breaking through on a cloudy day. All my hard work was finally paying off. I was going to be able to be a contributing member of American society.

Through my husband, a DACA recipient who was attending Bible school in Dallas, I met the director of a charter school system. He offered me a position if I got my teaching certificate. That was my first job offer. I took it and ran with it.

I quickly fell in love with teaching. Although it’s very hard, I love my kids and I love teaching them life skills. I love working with kids who are learning the language like I was.”

I quickly fell in love with teaching. Although it’s very hard, I love my kids and I love teaching them life skills. I love working with kids who are learning the language like I was. Being able to connect with them helps them know they aren’t alone.

DACA enabled my husband and I to pursue professional careers — he became an information-technology specialist — and to purchase a house and two cars. We are continuing to develop our skills. My husband has returned to school for business and sound engineering and I hope to attend law school one day.

But now we may be forced to leave our jobs and possibly our country. Living in this limbo state has been emotionally and physically detrimental to us. We’re not asking for handouts or for things to be made easy or free. We know we have to work hard for what we want. And we have worked.

We remain hopeful. This month 240 members of the House of Representatives demanded a vote to protect Dreamers. Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, who has been working with fellow Republican Will Hurd of Texas, announced he had enough supporters from both sides of the aisle to put forward for an immediate vote immigration legislation to replace DACA.

Meanwhile, because DACA has made such a positive impact in our lives, we are happy to re-register every two years and pay the nearly $500 fee each time. We’ll do the paperwork. We’ll get our pictures and all the biometrics. We just want to keep what we have. We just want to stay here in Waco and continue to be part of this wonderful community.

Grecia Chavira is a second-grade bilingual teacher in Waco.

Visit wacotrib.com to read the original op-ed.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…