In May, I will graduate from the University of Central Florida with a degree in industrial engineering. I’ve loved my time at UCF, where I currently serve as student body president of the largest undergraduate population in the entire country and hold a position on the Board of Trustees. I’m also excited that I already have a job lined up with a prestigious consulting firm after graduation.
There’s just one problem: I’m an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador. I’ve been lucky to benefit from a governmental program that allowed immigrants who came here as children to live and work legally. But in September 2017, the Trump Administration announced it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, putting the roughly 700,000 young immigrants at risk of deportation. The uncertainty makes it difficult for me — and my employer — to plan for the future. That’s why I’m urging Congress to move forward on new legislation introduced in the House and Senate this month to protect immigrants who were brought here as children.
This is the opportunity we have been waiting for. When my parents brought our family here from Ecuador in 2003, I was just six years old. They wanted to provide me and my four older brothers the opportunity for a better life. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, I was captain of the soccer team, served as junior class president and vice president of the Florida Association of Student Councils. Now as student body president at UCF, I advocate for the issues students care about, including expanding mental health care and legal counseling services, improving campus safety and ensuring the voices of our students are heard by the university’s administration.
Like many Dreamers, I didn’t even know that I was undocumented until I was a teenager. When I was 14, my best friend Joel invited me to go on a cruise with his family. I thought there was no way my parents would say no. But when I asked their permission, I got a vague explanation about not being able to leave the country. Still, it wasn’t until I was 15 and ready to get my driver’s permit that I truly understood what being undocumented meant: Without a social security number or federal work permit, I wasn’t eligible to take the exam. Suddenly I became worried about being able to go college and eventually getting a job. Luckily, I was 17 when DACA was created in 2012. I became eligible for in-state tuition, a driver’s license to drive myself to and from campus, and a job to help pay for everything. The American education my parents had dreamed of for me was finally within reach.
I’ve never been one to draw attention to my Dreamer status; I see it as something that is part of me, but it doesn’t define me. Still, I feel compelled to speak out now because I know how important it is to humanize this issue if we want Congress to vote yes on a pathway to citizenship for us. That’s why I want people to know who Dreamers are.
We’re contributors in all shapes and sizes, on college campuses and in the workplace. In 2017, of the more than 1.2 million DACA-eligible residents living in the United States, more than 93 percent were employed, according to the bipartisan immigration nonprofit New American Economy. We generate $23.4 billion in annual income for the national economy — $4 billion of which go toward state, local and federal taxes. In Florida alone, this group generates $1.5 billion in household income and pays $256.6 million in taxes annually.
This summer, I start a job with Accenture, a consulting firm in Atlanta. Although the courts have allowed us to temporarily renew our statuses, I’m nervous about what will happen two years from now when it expires. That’s why we need a permanent solution now more than ever.
My track record shows that I have the potential to contribute so much to this country, just like all of the young people who are stuck in this frustrating limbo alongside me. We’re smart, hard-working and ambitious. I’m asking Congress to give us the chance to remain in the country we love and call home.
Josh Boloña is a senior industrial engineering major and student body president at the University of Central Florida.