This week, the Senate is scheduled to debate immigration legislation, and once again Dreamers across the country will stand on pins and needles until the final vote is cast.
Since Donald Trump created this crisis by cancelling DACA, over 19,000 young people who grew up in America have lost the ability to work and care for their families without the constant fear of deportation. Hundreds of thousands more will lose their immigration status in the months ahead.
At the same time, the oldest Dreamers — who were unfairly excluded from DACA because of its arbitrary age cap — are being deported. Like DACA beneficiaries, they came here as children, grew up as American, and are being forcibly ripped from their families, three or more decades later.
Let’s be clear, when we say Dreamers will be “losing status”, or Dreamers are being deported, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of young people who have lived here nearly their entire lives, some of whom have American-born children.
DACA status — this simple, official government document — is so much more than a plastic card or a piece of paper. It’s a key that opens up a lifetime of opportunities. Donald Trump has tried to minimize the consequences of the crisis he created in September by suggesting Congress could act to fix it later. He doesn’t seem to understand, or care, that losing DACA means losing not only a measure of stability and security, but also losing jobs, cars, homes, the ability to care for one’s family, as well as the ability to plan a future.
Below are just some of the things that Dreamers stand to lose if Congress doesn’t pass legislation.
According to Zillow and the Center for American Progress, an estimated 123,000 Dreamers bought homes after obtaining DACA. That’s roughly 16% of the total number of Dreamers with DACA status. Dreamer-homeowners pay an estimated $380 million a year in property taxes to their communities. In Texas and California, the property tax contributions of Dreamers are enough to fund the salaries of 1,500 elementary school teachers in each state for a year.
In Texas, Diego Corzo owns not just one, but six homes, which he rents out. When he first received DACA status almost six years ago, all he could think about was buying a house. He was working as a programmer with General Motors in Austin, and had to spend a year building up credit.
With a home loan of $160,000 he bought his first home. Three years later, he acquired a second. The rest followed quickly from there. Last year, he hired his first employee to help him manage his properties.
But Diego’s DACA status expires in 2019. As he told CNN Money, “Without a job, I won’t be able to pay my mortgage and my home would go into foreclosure.”
Another Dreamer profiled in the story, Julian, bought land in Arkansas and built a house on the land. “Dreamers may be a drop in the bucket,” he said, “but we are doing our part as homeowners to stimulate the economy.”
Without the Dream Act, immigrant homeowners like Diego and Julian will likely be unable to afford their mortgages. They’ll be forced to sell or transfer away their part of the American Dream — a home they worked hard for — and experts say that housing prices could stumble.
Zaid is the owner of a coffeeshop in Kansas City. Brook is the cofounder of an online platform that helps Dreamers prepare DACA applications and renewals. Ramiro is a startup entrepreneur whose live-streaming company, Riivet, recently graduated from a tech accelerator program to having a dozen steady clients. Without DACA and the legal presence, protection from deportation, and ability to legally work that it brings, these entrepreneurs may no longer be able to run the small businesses that power America. The Center for American Progress found that 8% of DACA recipients 25 and older have started businesses after receiving status.
As Ramiro said, “If I hadn’t had DACA, I’d have been struggling to even open a bank account, not thinking about how to start a business or employ other people.”
Ramiro is also the co-founder of Code the Dream, a nonprofit that tries to help immigrants by providing free training in programming and web development. Code the Dream has funding from Google and has taught students who have gone on to become full-time software developers and aspiring entrepreneurs. As Ramiro said about Dreamers who have started businesses, “They aren’t the only ones who’ll benefit — the whole community will benefit. A rising tide brings all ships up.”
Jobs and teaching
There are an estimated 20,000 teachers in the U.S. who have DACA — and as they lose status, children and classrooms could also end up feeling the impact of Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans’ refusal to act.
Yehimi grew up in Atlanta and could see the local high school from her bedroom window. She was born in Morelia, in Mexico’s Michoacán state, which was especially hard-hit by the drug war. She was brought to the U.S. as a child, went to that high school, and earned a studio art degree. Now she’s teaching at her alma mater.
As she said to USA Today, “This has kind of been my dream, to come back and teach here. This is a community that I grew up in — this is where I call home.”
A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute found that public schools are already short by about 327,000 teachers. And Teach for America, a teacher-training program that works in disadvantaged communities, employs 100 Dreamer-teachers serving 10,000 students in 11 states, with another 88 Dreamers who are alumni.
Experts have made it clear that schools around the country cannot afford to lose the 20,000 teachers who will no longer be educate if they don’t have DACA. As Viridiana Carrizales of Teach For America said, “Every time a student loses a teacher, that is a disruption in the student’s learning.”
Many DACA-mented teachers teach in immigrant-rich communities where their students know they are Dreamers and come from undocumented or mixed-status families themselves. It can be empowering for students to see someone who is undocumented like them in a position of leadership: “It has been powerful to have our teachers who have DACA status in the classroom, because our young undocumented students can now see themselves in their teachers,” said Viridiana.
On the other hand, that means students also intimately understand what could happen to their teachers if Dreamer legislation is not passed. “It’s very real for them,” Yehimi said. “They’re just in shock that I could be taken away from the classroom like that.”
Families and children
Dreamers are parents, too, and like other immigrant parents, they risk being separated from their children and their families if they are deported. This is especially true for “Dreamer elders” — those who didn’t qualify for DACA and are not currently protected, but who have lived in the U.S. for decades and would qualify for the Dream Act if Congress could get around to passing it. In December, Fabiola Hernandez, an Ohio mom of three U.S. citizens, including a daughter with cerebral palsy, was deported in a silent raid and removed to “lawless Nuevo Laredo”. Fabiola didn’t qualify for DACA, but she would have been eligible for legal status, a path to citizenship, and a way to stay with her family under the broader Dream Act.
Similarly, over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, Detroit-area father of three Jorge Garcia was deported despite having lived in the U.S. for 30 years. Jorge was brought to the U.S. when he was 10 and had spent his entire adult life here. He was too old to qualify for DACA, but would also have been allowed to stay under the Dream Act. Since Congress never passed the Dream Act or similar legislation, Jorge was never allowed to adjust his legal status despite living in the U.S. for 30 years and being married to a U.S. citizen wife. Fabiola and Jorge’s stories of deportation and separation are haunting reminders of what may happen to Dreamers — both those who are currently protected by DACA as well as those who never qualified — if legislation is not passed. As Jorge Garcia’s wife, Cynthia, said of their home now that he’s gone, “It’s empty. The house is completely empty.”