When Dalia Garcia was 4, her parents brought her across the Mexican border without immigration papers. Back home, they had struggled to find work and feared for their safety because gang violence had taken over their home city of Oaxaca. Life in America was not always easy, because Garcia and her brother knew they might come home one day to find their parents gone. “We never talked about it much. They would just say, ‘If we are deported, we will find you,’” recalls Garcia. “We had a notebook with numbers in it to call in case that ever happened. But the family made a life for themselves in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Garcia’s parents quickly secured jobs at a local poultry farm. The pay was not good, but their employers were helpful, guiding them through school enrollment and helping them navigate their new city. Garcia says a teacher gave her extra English lessons in exchange for learning some Spanish. As she grew older, Garcia knew she would not be able to do certain things, like get a driver’s license. Though she loves learning, she did not know whether she would ever be able to go to college.
Even after a pregnancy changed her plans, she persisted — getting her GED before she applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that temporarily waives deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, and allows them to work legally in the country. She found solace in the thought that her own children would grow up with less anxiety than she and her brother had experienced. Under DACA, Garcia was also eligible to apply for better jobs. Previously she had worked at a Mexican restaurant as a hostess and server. “It was really hard to get a job before DACA when I told them, ‘I don’t have a driver’s license, I don’t have a social.’” With her new status, she could work in an office. She approached Jacquelynn Cadena, the owner of All Services Consulting, where she now provides much-needed services as a full-time, bilingual administrative assistant. “People come in who have started or are wanting to start companies, and I help them pay bills, get business insurance, and other things like that,” says Garcia. “Being able to speak both Spanish and English is a huge help.” With nearly 1,200 immigrant entrepreneurs living in Arkansas’ Fourth Congressional District, these services are greatly needed.
There are a lot of people like me who are hoping to grow and accomplish things, and having that ticking clock hanging over us prevents us.
Her DACA status has also enabled Garcia to open a bank account and get a credit card. “I am trying to build my credit, because I want to buy my own house in the future,” she says. Immigrant families have long played an important role building housing wealth in the United States. In recent decades, the country’s 40 million immigrants increased U.S. housing wealth by $3.7 trillion, according to New American Economy. More than 5,000 immigrants in Garcia’s district currently own homes in the area.
Unfortunately, with DACA now set to end in March 2018 unless Congress acts, Garcia’s future is uncertain. “It’s scary to know that my DACA status could soon be taken away,” she says. “I have two kids now, and their father is from El Salvador and also has DACA, so what we do? My son is 4 and speaks perfect English, but not much Spanish. We do not want to go back to Mexico where there is violence. I have not been there since I was little, so I do not know how to provide for them there.”
Garcia would like to see immigration reform that includes a permanent solution to DACA, including a policy that offers at least temporary legal residency, for two years or more. Such a policy would go a long way to reducing the fear and work restrictions that is preventing young, aspiring Americans to contribute to American society.
“There are a lot of people like me who are hoping to grow and accomplish things, and having that ticking clock hanging over us prevents us,” she says. “We deserve more than that.”