Last month, when Democrats introduced legislation to protect young immigrants like me who were brought to the United States as children, I felt a huge wave of relief. Ever since President Trump announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program more than a year and a half ago, I’ve been living with the uncertainty that I could lose my right to work and be at risk for deportation. The emotional toll has been brutal, to say the least. But now, with the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 on the table, which would give permanent legal protections to the more than more than 800,000 DACA recipients in the U.S., we finally have something to be hopeful about.
I was only 4 when my family left El Salvador to come to Portland in 2002. But it didn’t take long for me to learn English and feel at home here. If someone asks me where I’m from, I always respond, “I’m a Mainer.”
I had no idea that I was even undocumented until I was 10 years old, but I didn’t really know what meant until I was 16 and wanted to learn how to drive and get my license. Luckily, the DACA program had been created a few years earlier, so I was able to make the trip to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles like all my classmates. As soon as I started filling out paperwork, I understood how lucky I was: Not only was I allowed to work, I was able to go to college and invest in my future.
As a DACA recipient, I’m grateful to pay the yearly in-state tuition rate at the University of Southern Maine. (That’s $9,520 versus $22,780 for out-of-state students.) Without it, I couldn’t have afforded to pursue my education. Now I’m a junior majoring in biology. My goal is to help research new medicines to cure some of the world’s toughest diseases and save lives.
I’m on track to graduate in May 2021, but that milestone seems so far off because my future is up in the air. Thankfully, the courts have allowed DACA recipients to temporarily renew our statuses. However, if Congress fails to save the program, as hard as it is to believe, I could be deported. I live with the constant fear of not knowing if I will ever realize the rewards of all my hard work, or whether I’ll be able to make the kinds of important contributions I’ve always dreamed of making.
Still, I’m hopeful. I view the introduction of the Dream and Promise Act as a real sign that our lawmakers are working on finding a permanent solution for young immigrants like me. And it’s not just immigrants who would benefit. The Dream and Promise Act is a good deal for Americans, too, especially those here in Maine.
As a group, those eligible for DACA are important contributors, and in a state like Maine, where economists predict a tight job market will slow economic growth, we desperately need more working-age residents to balance out the ratio of older residents. In 2017, 93 percent of DACA-eligible recipients over 16 were employed, and DACA recipients paid $4 billion in taxes, according to a new report by New American Economy.
I’ve spent the last few months working for a tech startup, where I manage cash for small businesses. The company hired me specifically for my bilingual language skills. Although the number of DACA recipients in Maine is relatively small, one report estimates that without us, Maine’s gross domestic product would be reduced by an estimated $3.97 million a year. Nationally, the United States would lose out on $23.4 billion in earnings if the 1.3 million DACA-eligible residents who call this country home were forced to leave, according to New American Economy.
I love Maine. It’s the only home I can remember, and I want to continue growing, learning and working here. That’s why I’m asking Congress to pass the Dream and Promise Act. I want to make my mark here, just as Maine has had such a wonderful influence on me.