I’m a college graduate with a full-time job and stable life, yet I often worry about my future. The reason: I grew up undocumented and President Trump has been trying to phase out the program that allows me to work and live without fear of deportation. As the president and the courts battle over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, I’ve been left with the fear that I may lose everything I’ve worked for.
As a 26-year-old, I have to rely on myself to provide for my expenses, for my savings and for my family, were they to fall on hard times. Without DACA, I would lose my employment, driver’s license and be forced back to life in the shadows.
We need Congress to pass legislation that provides Dreamers like myself a path to citizenship. As the law currently stands, someone like me cannot just “get in line” and apply for citizenship. There simply is no line. The current system is frustrating for its lack of options. That’s why I felt a twinge of hope when I heard that last week the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance the Dream Act, a bill that offers a path to citizenship for Dreamers. However, we’re not the only ones who would benefit. Our lives, including the work we do and the taxes we pay, are integral to key industries and local economies. If we stay, our contributions stay right here in America.
The majority of Americans believe in protecting Dreamers, with 83% favoring a path to citizenship, according to a June Gallup poll, which also showed strong support among both Republicans and Democrats. This broad backing comes as no surprise to me. After all, we fuel economic activity by working, investing in our communities and creating new jobs. According to research by New American Economy, 93% of the 1.25 million DACA-eligible immigrants are employed. Dreamers paid nearly $4 billion in taxes in 2017, a significant portion of which goes into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans. On top of that, about 43,000 DACA-eligible immigrants were entrepreneurs. Ohio’s nearly 8,000 DACA-eligible residents contributed $25 million in taxes and have $117 million in spending power, according to NAE.
When I was 9, my family left Bolivia for America. My single mother moved with me and my sister into a second-story room of a home in rural Ohio, and we shared that floor with two other families. As a child, being undocumented was a mental weight much like it is now. I was careful not to be the audacious kid I had been in Bolivia out of fear of undesired attention. I stayed away from conflicts at school, disclosed my status to no one and was generally reserved.
My mom also was cautious, checking her lights before driving at night and always taking the back roads to avoid the possibility of being pulled over. For an undocumented person like my mother, a minor traffic violation could have led to deportation. We endured these challenges because we had a larger goal in mind. My mom worked as a migrant laborer and my sister and I enrolled in school and began learning English. Today, my mother is a homeowner and my sister and I are college graduates.
I spent a lot of time working in factories, restaurants and a foundry to pay for my education. It was not only my efforts that have led to where I am today, but also the opportunities available in America — for which I am grateful. Currently, I own a house, work full time and am preparing for law school, with the goal of becoming an immigration attorney.
Like so many Dreamers, I’m committed to America. I’ve spent the majority of my life here and want to see this country thrive. The Dream and Promise Act offers a sensible, permanent solution that will eliminate the uncertainty we live with and keep our talents in the communities that raised us. When Dreamers live and work here, the whole country benefits.
I’m urging Congress to take this bill seriously and I’m urging individuals to put pressure on our elected officials to do the right thing. Anyone can make their voice heard by calling or writing their congressional representative and letting them know that they support a sensible path to citizenship for Dreamers and other immigrants.
Elvis Saldias lives and works in Columbus and will begin law school in the fall.