In September 2017, Cristian Olivares was ready to start his freshman year of college. He had registered for business classes and signed a lease for an apartment. Then he learned that the Trump administration was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), the 2012 policy that temporarily defers deportation and provides work authorization to qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. “I called my dad right away and told him that I didn’t know if I should go to college,” says Olivares, 19. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to even use my education toward a job.”
Olivares dropped his classes at Southeast Technical Institute, a community college in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and backed out of his apartment lease. Instead, he decided to work as much as he could while he still had the legal right to do so. Today, he earns $13 an hour as a customer service representative for a cleaning company. “I’m trying to save the most I can for college,” he says. In the meantime, a Catholic organization called the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary helped him apply for a renewal of his DACA status, covering part of the $500 fee. “I’m so happy I was able to get it again in time,” he says.
Although Olivares has DACA for another two years, he still feels uncertain about his future. If Congress does not pass legislation to protect Dreamers, he could lose his job and be deported. “Getting DACA was everything for me. My parents were so excited about it and thought it would help me have a better life than them. It made me feel really lucky,” he says.
When Olivares was 4 years old, he crossed the U.S. border by bus with his mother to join his father, who had already gone to Georgia in search of better economic opportunities. “America has been my only home. I don’t even know what town in Mexico I’m from. My Spanish isn’t even very good,” he says. About a decade ago, when his father lost his job in construction – at the same time the state’s immigration laws were tightening – the family moved to Iowa and then South Dakota. His father now works several maintenance jobs. His mother is a waitress.
Getting DACA was everything for me. My parents were so excited about it and thought it would help me have a better life than them.
Olivares is one of more than 250 DACA recipients in the state. Combined, these young people generate an estimated $12.2 million in gross domestic product for South Dakota annually. Nationally, it’s estimated that ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next decade. That’s because 90 percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed. 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
As soon as Olivares received his DACA status at age 15, he began to work, first at McDonald’s as a cashier, and later at Hardee’s, where he worked his way up to manager.
“Immigrants bring in a lot of money. We all just want to live the American Dream and go to college and get a great job and be part of society,” says Olivares, who now wants to study sports medicine to prepare for a career as a personal trainer. “I like helping people and want to push them to be the best they can be.”