Publicly, Sharon McDonnell’s son’s friend goes by the name “S.” That’s because S is an undocumented immigrant. And although she now has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that currently shields her from deportation, she cannot be sure how long she will remain protected. None of the country’s 1.3 million DACA-eligible individuals can be. The White House has begun to phase out the program, saying it will end it entirely unless Congress takes legislative action, something congressional leaders have so far failed to do.
“I can’t say there are very many people in the white middle and upper class who could deal with as much uncertainty as DACA recipients and their families do,” says McDonnell, who works as an epidemiologist in Yarmouth, Maine. “You don’t know what’s going to happen to your life, to your children’s life.”
We can’t let them watch the possibility of their dreams just evaporate. We need them here.
McDonnell, who feels compelled to speak on S’s behalf, met the young woman through her son and was quickly impressed by her story. S was brought to the United States at the age of 13 by her parents, who were desperate to flee extreme poverty in Guatemala. She graduated from high school, then finished two semesters of college before having to drop out for financial reasons. Until the summer of 2017, Maine was one of more than two dozen states requiring undocumented immigrants, even those with DACA status, to pay out-of-state tuition rates at its public colleges and universities, putting a higher education out of reach for many young people such as S.
S switched course, and moved to Portland, Maine, to work. In two days, she was offered two jobs, and she now works as a personal trainer. “We need young people here,” says McDonnell, pointing to the state’s aging population. Maine, known as the nation’s oldest state, faces a constricting economy if it continues to fail to attract more people of working age to move to the state.
At the same time, the elimination of DACA threatens to crush a small — but desperately needed — component of the state’s existing workforce: the 95 DACA recipients, or Dreamers, who are already in Maine, 87 percent of whom are employed. Removing those DACA recipients from the state’s workforce threatens to reduce Maine’s gross domestic product by an estimated $3.97 million a year.
“Everybody is very nervous right now,” says McDonnell of the potential for deportation. “S’s mom is always hoping she’ll become eligible to become a citizen. So she’s been collecting all these documents to show she has been in school and has been here consistently.”
Like S, 90 percent of the DACA-eligible population nationwide 16 years old and older are employed, and 81.4 percent have graduated from high school and taken a college course. Combined these Dreamers pay $3 billion in taxes every year and almost $2.5 billion into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans.
“We can’t let them watch the possibility of their dreams just evaporate,” says McDonnell. “We need them here.”