For most of her childhood, Itzel Marquez had no idea she was an undocumented immigrant. Family members had brought her to the United States when she was just 3 years old. When she was 9, she says, “I started hearing about undocumented immigrants on the news, and I asked my parents ‘Are we undocumented?’ It made me worried because I would always hear of these deportations, and I became scared that one day it would happen to us.”
But when she was 14 years old, Marquez had new reason to hope. In 2012, the U.S. 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. “When I heard about DACA I was really excited, because now and I was able to go to college and have more opportunities,” she says.
My mom had a terrible nightmare that one day they started taking us, and we were all separated. It makes me sad that my mom has dreams like this.
DACA enabled Marquez to get a driver’s license and an after-school job. In 2013, the Ohio Board of Regents also declared that DACA recipients could qualify for in-state tuition at the state’s public universities, putting a college education now within reach for Marquez. Now a senior in high school, she is already taking classes in history and English composition at a community college. Once she has saved enough money from her jobs — babysitting and doing food prep job at a local church — she intends to apply to several colleges, including Miami University, a public institution in Oxford, Ohio, as well as some community colleges. She would like to study law or architecture.
In many ways, Marquez is a typical Dreamer. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and 81.4 percent have graduated from high school and taken a college course. They pay $3 billion in taxes every year and pay almost $2.5 billion annually into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans.
The economic force that is Dreamers could collapse, however. In September 2017, the White House announced it would phase out DACA by March 2018. Unless Congress takes 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.Marquez says if her DACA status were revoked, she does not know what she would do. “I would be lost,” she says. She is particularly concerned about her younger relatives and friends, who are not yet eligible to receive DACA. “I’m mostly worried about the younger ones who were not able to get the opportunity like I did,” she says.
She would like the politicians in Washington who are negotiating her fate to understand that Dreamers only want to work hard and learn. “If you take that away, you are destroying our dreams. Not just the Dreamers like me, but the ones who didn’t get the chance to become Dreamers,” she says.
Marquez has three younger siblings who were all born in the United States. She worries that if she and her parents are deported, they may have to leave her sister and two brothers, ages 6, 11 and 14. “My mom had a terrible nightmare that one day they started taking us, and we were all separated. It makes me sad that my mom has dreams like this. It’s really heartbreaking just to think about it.”