This week, 800,000 young people who came to the United States as children are waiting in fear and anticipation to find out whether President Trump will force them back into the shadows or worse, deport them, by revoking the policy that grants them legal status in the only home many have ever known.
Since 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) has provided a brighter future to nearly 50,000 young people in North Carolina – including me – by allowing us to obtain work permits, educations and the recognition that we are valued members of our communities. Despite the program’s widespread success and popularity, it has been reported that President Trump is considering ending the policy that protects “Dreamers” from deportation and has created so many opportunities for us to contribute to our local economies and communities.
I came to the United States from Mexico when I was 13 years old. I attended public schools in Alamance County, and I graduated high school with honors. But I faced many challenges along the way because I was undocumented. For many years I could not obtain a driver’s license or learner’s permit, for example, even though I took the required classes and passed my final test.
I studied hard, got good grades and was fortunate enough to earn scholarships that allowed me to attend college. But the stress of being undocumented did not allow me to be a regular college student; I lived in constant fear of being deported. I couldn’t secure internships in my area of study because I did not have state-issued identification. I could not fly because I was afraid of being detained by immigration agents at airports. So when I had to attend a conference in Florida, I took a 12-hour train ride.
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Despite the challenges and the uncertainty, I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2011. But after graduation, the cruel reality of being undocumented still prevented me from working at a job I love and contributing to the economy and the community that I care about.
That all changed in 2012 when President Obama issued the executive order that allowed me to obtain DACA status. Since then, many doors and opportunities have been opened for me in every aspect of my life. I’ve been able to use my education and experience to work in the nonprofit sector on issues that I’m passionate about, such as the rights of students and farmworkers.
Now that I have a government-issued ID, I’ve been able to obtain a library card, request utilities for my apartment, open a bank account, build my credit, buy a car and obtain health insurance for the first time. I now also have peace of mind because I can fly and drive without fear of deportation. Most important, DACA has allowed me to keep dreaming about my future, invest in my community and even pursue a graduate degree.
I desperately hope that President Trump and his administration rethink the future of DACA and realize how much economic, social and emotional harm would be caused if the program was ended. Thanks to DACA, people like me have been able to start businesses, buy homes and earn higher wages – all contributing to the economy and generating tax revenue for cities, states and the country at large. Revoking DACA would mean that hundreds of thousands of young people would lose their ability to drive, to work, to continue living in the country where they grew up and that they know as home. We are active and productive members of American society – we should not be forced back into the shadows.
Yazmin Garcia Rico is a master’s degree candidate in social work at UNC Chapel Hill and a policy intern for the ACLU of North Carolina.