Every June, thousands of Americans across the country celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month. This year’s Immigrant Heritage Month, despite the impact of COVID-19, brought with it a major victory for immigrants like me.
I am a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipient. The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the DACA program that protects me and nearly 700,000 other young immigrants nationwide like me. The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the program and decision to overturn the Trump administration’s September 2017 rescission of the program is a monumental victory, a source of much-needed relief during this year’s Immigrant Heritage Month.
Since it was implemented in 2012, the DACA program has granted young immigrants such as myself, who came to this country as children with our families, the opportunity to live, work and go to school without the threat of deportation. These protections, granted after a rigorous background check and application process, have allowed over 14,500 young immigrants in Colorado to make a home for ourselves in the only place we’ve ever really known.
When I was four, my mom grew exhausted and hopeless. She was tired of not knowing where our next meal was going to come from or thinking about me getting kidnapped on my way to preschool. The only thing on her mind was survival and the only way we could survive was to leave. Our ray of sunshine was the USA, Colorado to be exact. Within months, my mom was able to obtain everything she yearned for back home: a stable home, car, and groceries in the fridge. Time passed and I became a teenager. Little by little I started realizing that I was different than other kids in school with me. I never got to brag about going to Cancun for spring break; even worse, I could not brag about getting my driver’s permit or looking into colleges to pursue higher education. All of those things were closed to me since I did not have legal residency status. The older I got the more I felt isolated and trapped because I could not plan for my future like everyone else. In 2012 the Obama administration gave me hope by creating the DACA program. DACA gave me the ability to work legally and took away the fear of being deported. I have been able to attend Colorado Mountain College and I now work as a Family Engagement Specialist serving immigrant families like myself. I am finally able to be a productive member of society and there is not a greater feeling than being able to provide and choose for yourself. DACA gave wings to those of us who believed we would never be able to fly. I am forever grateful.
We have more than earned our protections and have made good use of them. Here in Colorado, DACA recipients are working hard, building business, starting families and serving in our communities. Many of us, 4,300 DACA recipients to be specific, are working on the frontlines in the midst of the pandemic as essential workers in the food, health care, construction and education industries. We are playing a critical role in Colorado’s continued economic growth. Every year, DACA recipients pay an estimated $59.1 million in state and local taxes, $113 million in federal taxes, and spend over $527 million.
We’re hard at work, contributing to our state and helping our communities. Colorado is home and I am beyond ecstatic that the Supreme Court has preserved the program that has protected us.
However, the Supreme Court decision is only temporary and does not permanently guarantee our protection. The Trump Administration could, and has already threatened, to try again to strip us of our homes and communities. Ultimately, the only way to provide certainty for Dreamers like me is for Congress to establish permanent protections through legislation like the American Dream and Promise Act. This bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last year on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis, gives Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders a pathway to earn permanent citizenship. Now, we need the Senate to replicate the House’s efforts and pass permanent protections. I am hopeful that Senators Bennet and Gardner will draw inspiration from the Court’s ruling and work with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to finally put this issue to rest and protect Dreamers like me who are proud to call this nation home.
For too long, Dreamers like me have lived in fear and uncertainty. Dreamers are your friends, your neighbors and your colleagues. We are Coloradans and we are Americans. This Immigrant Heritage Month, it’s time for change and time that we are given the protections we have earned.
Daniela Corral is a DACA recipient and a health and wellness specialist with an organization focused on early childhood services. This piece first ran in The Denver Post July 8, 2020.