High school and college students gathered on Nov. 8, 2019, outside U.S. Sen. Martha McSally’s office in central Phoenix to advocate for immigration reform that covers undocumented families. The rally was held ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on Nov. 12, 2019, challenging the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror
When I received DACA protections a decade ago, at age 24, I immediately burst into tears. I’d recently graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in mechanical engineering, but I wasn’t allowed to hold a legal job or even live legally in the United States. Now I could get a social security number. That changed everything for me — and for more than 23,000 young adult immigrants in Arizona.
Though I’d lived in Phoenix since moving here from Mexico at age six and graduated from Carl Hayden High School, I’d never felt truly safe. This was especially true in the months leading up to DACA. Joseph Arpaio, then Maricopa County Sheriff, had been on an anti-immigrant crusade — pulling over anyone who looked Hispanic and checking their papers. I was terrified of getting deported simply driving to and from my construction job. DACA allowed me to move forward without fear. I could find my calling and a place in my community.
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But that security didn’t last. In 2017, the Trump Administration tried to shutter DACA, arguing that it was illegal. Today the program is suspended and held up in a long court battle.
Yet Congress has the power to eliminate the need for DACA altogether. Last month U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the Dream Act to secure a pathway for residency and citizenship for 2 million immigrants who came here as children. DACA was never supposed to become the status quo. It was a stopgap measure to help hundreds of thousands of young people participate in American life. Now the new Congress must show real leadership and make Dreamer protections permanent by creating an efficient process for long-time immigrants like me to formally call Arizona my home.
Our state and city leaders understand the importance of fully integrating Dreamers into society — as do 73 percent of registered voters, including both Republicans and Democrats, according to this poll. Last fall Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero joined 70 mayors across the U.S. asking Congress to codify protections for Dreamers. But it’s not just a symbolic act; excluding residents who’ve grown up in the American school system makes no economic sense. The end of DACA means that that 22,000 jobs across the nation would be lost every single month for two years. Arizona needs our contributions in industries like health care, education
Before Arizona voters passed Prop 308, I was lucky to attend college on a private scholarship. Though I studied engineering, I felt an overwhelming desire to help young people. In 2014, I joined Teach for America and spent two years teaching high school students in Avondale. Today, I work for a nonprofit that helps undocumented students access education. I do this in tribute to my beloved elementary school teachers who nurtured and supported me when I arrived in America as a scared student and didn’t know English.
I’ve now lived in Arizona for 27 years. I graduated from Arizona schools, helped teach Arizona youth and paid Arizona taxes. I was honored to be part of the “first DACA class” nearly a decade ago, but it’s demoralizing to renew my legal status in two-year increments. If the courts overturn DACA for good, that will no longer be an option. Like many of my peers with DACA, I’m approaching middle age — no longer a teen or young adult. I can’t imagine being forced back into the shadows at this point in my life or career. I yearn for real security. I want to be able to vote and put down roots as a homeowner with my fiancée.
DACA was wonderful, but we all deserve the real thing now.
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