“EM,” a young immigrant brought to the United States from El Salvador at the age of 3, has been living in fear since the Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would phase out DACA unless Congress takes action. “If something happens and I’m deported, I would not go back to El Salvador,” he says. “It’s really unsafe. So I would be planning to go somewhere else. Canada maybe, Montreal. But not El Salvador.”
Growing up in Portland, Maine, EM played soccer, served as vice president of his high school freshman class, and was a member of the National Honor Society and other clubs. He did not know he was undocumented until his freshman year of high school, in 2012, when his mother submitted an application for him to receive Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The 2012 policy allows qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to defer deportation for renewable two-year periods and to work legally in the United States. “I did all this research about the immigrant population in the U.S. and came upon things that showed how different we were living, and how different this social group is in the U.S.,” he says. “It made me feel different and not wanted. I had become so accustomed to living like a U.S. citizen, going to school and being part of school plays and sports teams. I just felt like one of them, and it made no sense to me that we were being categorized as something different.”
EM is one of 1.3 million young people nationally who is currently eligible for DACA, although that number is expected to grow to 1.8 million as more youth age into the program and as more people complete their high school education. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and 81 percent have graduated from high school and taken at least one college course. EM is currently a sophomore at Endicott College, in Beverly, Massachusetts, studying consumer marketing and advertising, and dreams of one day owning his own business. “In the future I’m looking to start my own social media marketing firm,” he says. “That would enable me to create more jobs and help the economy while pursuing one of my dreams.”
Like EM, a noteworthy percentage of Dreamers have aspired to open their own business: 4.5 percent of DACA-eligible individuals are already entrepreneurs — compared with 3.9 percent of the U.S. population of the same age — and combined these Dreamers generate annual business income of $659 million, a significant boost to local economies across the country.
That would enable me to create more jobs and help the economy while pursuing one of my dreams.
Maine, known as the nation’s oldest state, faces a constricting economy if it continues to fail to attract more people of working age. At the same time, the elimination of DACA threatens to crush a small — but desperately needed — component of the state’s existing workforce: the more than 95 DACA recipients, or Dreamers, who already live in the state, 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.
EM would like to see immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship, not only for the DACA-eligible population, but for their families, as well. EM’s parents, who are from El Salvador, have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a provisional residency extended to about 200,000 Salvadorans after earthquakes damaged their country in 2001. But the Trump administration has said it will end TPS for all these Salvadorans, as well, in September 2019. “It’s really scary knowing that my parents could be deported,” says EM.
EM is especially worried about what will happen to his three younger siblings, all of whom are U.S. citizens, if he and his parents are forced to leave the country. “I would have no idea what to do if I were taken away from them, knowing I am a role model for them and I am paving a great path for them to follow,” he says. “It honestly breaks me. I get really upset that people can actually think this is a good idea. People should not be living in fear here in America.”