Carlos Jara, a third-year doctoral candidate in Spanish and Portuguese studies and a university instructor in Wisconsin, wakes up every morning at dawn and doesn’t return home until around 7:00 p.m. In addition to his academic work, Jara co-chairs conferences for his department and works as an accounting manager at an e-commerce company. “I was hired because of my bilingual skills, because the company serves multicultural communities,” Jara says.
All of this is possible due to the fact that Jara, who was born in Chile and moved to the United States as a teenager, is a recipient of 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. Jara is one of the 1.3 million young people currently eligible for DACA, although that number is expected to grow to 1.8 million as more youth age into the program and as more people complete their high school education.
Reform is about building an immigration system that is reliable and solid in the long term.
Although Jara knows academia is a highly competitive field, he hopes to eventually land a tenure-track position teaching Spanish literature. A lot depends on U.S. immigration policy, however. “I have deferred action right now, and if that is taken away from me, I will be left with my hands tied and nothing to do,” he says. “I would have to stop all of the projects I’m working on right now. I’d be stranded, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
His concerns are well-founded. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the administration would phase out DACA by March 2018 unless Congress takes action. Such a move would not only create hardship for many people like Jara, it would also deal a blow to the U.S. economy. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible population 16 years old and older are employed, and combined these Dreamers pay $3 billion in taxes every year and pay almost $2.5 billion into the Social Security and Medicare funds, critical social programs that benefit all Americans.
Jara’s father moved the family from Chile, where he was an executive at a major salt mineral company, in the early 2000s. The family was looking for a new opportunity, and they had a short-term visa to stay in the United States. “My parents definitely thought they had an opportunity to adjust our status once here,” says Jara. “But things rapidly changed. We quickly learned the opportunities immigrants had a decade ago had disappeared.” But the family had settled in Long Island and was already integrated into the community; Jara was enrolled in high school and his father worked as an air-conditioning technician. They decided to stay.
Despite his undocumented status, Jara attended university, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Now, as a doctoral student in Wisconsin, he is active in his field, co-chairing an annual language conference, and has come to appreciate the role that diverse voices can play in shaping immigration reform.
“Policymakers should inform themselves from other sectors of society in order to legislate. Academic and cultural leaders play a significant role here because they dedicate their life to research, to investigate issues concerning specific aspects of our society,” he says. “To me, reform is about building an immigration system that is reliable and solid in the long term.”