Commentary

DACA: Nine years later, many remain unfree in the land of the free

August 22, 2021 7:27 pm

Our guest columnist says so-called Dreamers yearn for a sense of permanence in their adopted country. DACA recipients and their supporters rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2020. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Barack Obama stated that undocumented individuals “are American in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one – on paper” as he announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program in June 2012.

It hit home. I was six years old when my mother, a single mother of three and a domestic violence survivor, decided to immigrate with us to the United States. I began attending school, learned English, and adapted to the American way of life. My mother paid her taxes on time, worked religiously to sustain us, and cultivated relationships within our new community and church. I knew I was undocumented but did not fully understand the repercussions that are attached to it.

Nine years ago, the Obama administration gave young undocumented immigrants, commonly known as Dreamers, a choice: remain hidden in the shadows or provide the government all personal information for an opportunity to “defer” deportation. In good faith, many undocumented individuals chose the latter and believed that the government would protect us. That promise was short-lived when the Trump administration rescinded the program in 2017, catapulting many into a roller coaster of emotions, a nightmare we continue to live in.

We mistakenly believed that freedom was synonymous with DACA and that leaders in Washington would continue working towards a much-needed immigration reform. However, our humanity, livelihoods, and narratives continue to be held hostage and used as leverage to advance a political agenda.

Today, the urgency to protect Dreamers is ever-present, with a federal judge in Texas ruling that all new DACA applicants be barred from receiving protections. Even though the Supreme Court itself ruled in 2020 to keep the program on a technicality, without a permanent legislative solution, the program could be eliminated.

According to USCIS, there are close to 650,000 individuals in the program, encompassing people from across the globe that have rooted themselves in cities across the U.S., contributing to the culture, economy, and overall well-being of communities. As DACA recipients, we pay approximately $5.7 billionin federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes annually, helping fund our roads, schools, and parks.

Through payroll taxes, we pay into Social Security and Medicare programs from which we cannot benefit. DACA recipients alone hold  $24.1 billion in spending power. We are business owners, homeowners, students and educators. We hold a driver’s licenses, legally work, and continue to live mercifully. But there is no pathway to citizenship under DACA, which often holds people back from achieving their full potential.

DACA afforded me the opportunity to become a Sommer Fellow at Johns Hopkins University to pursue an MPH/MBA by simply providing me with a social security. As I continue to climb the academic ladder and pursue medicine at SUNY Upstate, I am still shackled by fear, anxiety, and the uncertainty of a tomorrow. The temporary nature of DACA still plagues our daily lives especially when it neglects our right to access government aid, applying for permanent legal status, and for some, in-state tuition to pursue higher education. Without a concrete solution, we’re threatened with deportation and family separation from those who hold contempt against immigrants.

The reality is, Dreamers represent the legacy of our parents and their dreams for us. Growing up in the heart of an immigrant community on the Buford Highway corridor in Atlanta, I have come to appreciate the diverse fabric of our nation. Immigrants of all ages and backgrounds have woven themselves into the cloth of opportunity and freedom.  I find strength in our differences and courage in the stories of resiliency. Now, we need Congress to listen to not only immigrants but 77% of Americans who support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

By providing Dreamers with an earned pathway to citizenship, though legislation such as the Dream Act and all other avenues possible, Congress can change the lives of those who endure a tumultuous journey in the program and those denied this opportunity. DACA’s rescission was a rude awakening that shook the foundations of the lives for those of us that call the U.S. our “home.”

I invite everyone, including Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, to understand the humanitarian crisis that exists within our borders. Your advocacy and support, education, and creation of safe spaces, help us create momentum for change. The U.S. benefits from having us here. We just want to be allowed to continue thriving and contributing the best way we can because home is here.

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