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Dreamers Deserve a Path To Citizenship

DACA changed my life. But after four years of fear, it’s clear that undocumented young people need more protection.

Supporters rally to protect DACA, 2017 (Photo: Shutterstock)

Supporters rally to protect DACA, 2017 (Photo: Shutterstock)

I grew up undocumented in America. As a kid, I often saw little hope for the future in the country I considered home.

In high school, I was denied scholarships, financial aid, and college admissions because of my status. It seemed like all I could hope for was a job cleaning homes, like most undocumented Mexicanas did in my hometown.

Luckily, the support of my community — and a big change in immigration policy in 2012 — changed that.

First, with the help of many teachers, family, and friends, I was able to attend Amherst College with a generous financial aid package. Then, in 2012, President Obama finally bowed to pressure from the immigrant rights movement and created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Under DACA, undocument applicants like me who’d arrived as young children were temporarily shielded from deportation. If we’d arrived early enough, stayed in school, and stayed out of trouble, we got temporary Social Security numbers and two-year work permits.

This program changed everything for me. For the first time in my life, I could apply to jobs where I could receive health benefits and save for retirement. If I got sick, I could go to the doctor. If I wanted to buy a home, I could. And if I wanted to pursue a professional degree, I could.

So I did. And today I’m an immigration attorney.

Countless other young people also benefited. Tom K. Wong, a political scientist at the University of California, surveyed over 3,000 DACA recipients from across the country. Wong found that after receiving DACA, about 69 percent of respondents got a higher paying job and about 56 percent got a job with better working conditions.

With their new jobs and spending power, these “DACAmented” youth started contributing approximately $4 billion dollars in taxes every year. Clearly, DACA benefitted not only individual DACA recipients but the economy at large.

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But if these past four years have taught us anything about DACA, it’s that DACA is simply not enough. As soon as President Trump came into power, he worked tirelessly to abolish DACA by executive action, throwing the futures of hundreds of thousands of young Dreamers into jeopardy.

These incessant attacks spread fear throughout the community. I constantly feared that one day ICE agents would break into my home and tear me out of bed. I dreamt of men in black suits with guns pursuing me through dark streets.

At work, DACAmented clients pleaded with me with fear in their eyes. “If Trump eliminates DACA, I’ll lose my job as a teacher,” one said. “Can you help?” Sadly, most of the time, there was nothing I could do.

For me, the fear ended only a few months ago after an interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office with my U.S. citizen husband, when I was finally granted permanent resident status.

This is the first time since President Trump’s election that I feel safe. It’s the first time I feel like ICE can’t burst through my living room door and take me away from my loved ones to a place I barely remember. I finally feel like I can plan for my future.

That feeling is priceless. And it is a feeling that all young undocumented people who have grown up in this country deserve to feel.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have promised to protect Dreamers and our families. They need to keep that promise and reverse all of Trump’s attacks on DACA within the first 100 days. But that’s not enough. They also need to push for legislative reforms that would grant us a pathway to citizenship that can’t just be taken away by the next administration.

It is the right thing to do. All of us deserve to live a full, safe, and fearless life full of promise.

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde is an immigration law attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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