After many years of struggle, Diana Marquez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, is living the American Dream. A licensed phlebotomist, she is a supervisor at a Columbus, Ohio, blood bank and owns a three-bedroom home, which she shares with her husband and her 4-year-old son, who was born in the United States. “I love my job, and my life,” she says.
Medical workers like Marquez are essential to the nation’s healthcare system. A New American Economy analysis finds that in all 50 states there are already far more healthcare jobs open than there are available healthcare workers to fill them, with about 4.4. healthcare jobs advertised online for every unemployed healthcare worker. This shortage of medical professions, already critical in many rural areas, is only expected to worsen as baby boomers age and further strain the demand for services.
Marquez came to the United States in 2000, when she was 7 years old. She did not know that she was undocumented — or that in Mexico her father had received gang death threats — until she was in high school. Only then, when her friends started getting driver’s licenses and part-time jobs, did her mother explain that she would not be able to join them. After high school, she found jobs willing to pay her under the table, as a hotel server and a front-desk clerk, while her friends went off to college. “I felt like my life had ended,” she says.
My heart belongs to America. I’ve been here since I was 7 years old. If I were ever sent to Mexico, I would not even know where to start. I would lose everything.
Everything changed in 2012, when the Department of Homeland Security implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 policy that 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. Marquez started working as a medical interpreter, and there met a phlebotomist. “That’s when my entire career path changed,” she says. Ninety 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 pay almost $2.5 billion into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans.
In the fall of 2017, however, the White House announced that it would phase out DACA by March 2018. If Congress doesn’t take action, more than 800,000 young people like Marquez who have already received DACA, and 1 million more who could potentially later qualify, could lose the legal right to work in the United States, posing a blow to businesses and local economies. “When my DACA paperwork expires, my employer won’t be able to keep me,” she says. “I’ll get terminated. I won’t be able to pay my mortgage, my car loan, my credit card.”
Marquez says she would not even drive a car without feeling she was in danger. “If we get pulled over, we could get put on detention. We won’t feel safe applying for decent jobs anymore. It would mean saying goodbye to all our dreams,” she says. But her biggest fear is that she could be separated from her family. “It would break my heart to not be able to stay with my son and husband,” she says.
As someone who has lived in the United States since she was in the second grade, Marquez says she can’t imagine leaving the country. “My heart belongs to America,” she says. “I’ve been here since I was 7 years old. If I were ever sent to Mexico, I would not even know where to start. I would lose everything.”