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NKY Dreamer: Americans Will Support the DREAM Act

Uncertainty. Given the gravity of the issues reported on the front page, it’s a feeling most Americans probably have experienced in the last week or two. We’re worried about our country, and our future.   

Uncertainty is something I’ve experienced nearly every day of my life. I came to the United States from Mexico when I was four, escaping poverty and in search of a better life. Because I was undocumented, I lived in the shadows for a long time. I worried about being ripped from my home, school, and friends. Then, in 2012, the federal government offered Ohio and Kentucky’s 15,000 other undocumented young people, including myself, a reprieve from our uncertainty. With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program we got a chance to live here legally, to work or go to school, if we submitted to law enforcement background checks, could prove we were brought here as children and had lived continuously in the United States for at least five years.

I paid the $465 fee for the program and was accepted. (DACA’s fee is now $495; recipients pay this amount every two years.) I used my new DACAmented status to work and drive legally, enroll in school with hopes of using my degree for a better future and to help my community.

I work with a local group of young leaders in a program called Youth Educating Society (YES), part of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC). From my work, I know the immense impact DACA has had on individual lives and communities. In Ohio and Kentucky, the DACAmented individuals pay nearly $23.2 million in state and local taxes and contribute almost $410 million to the two states’ economies. According to a 2016 survey, more than 60 percent of DACA recipients said the program allowed them to take advantage of an educational opportunity that was previously closed to them. Recipients who are not in school either work or serve in our military.

We’re living productive lives, and contributing to the economy, but DACA only offered us temporary status. Even in the program, we are still living with a great deal of uncertainty. Just two weeks ago, a Kentucky resident and DACA recipient was wrongfully detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 8 days before she was released. Despite all the reassurance that DACA would protect us from such injustices, this is something far too common across the states.

During last year’s tumultuous campaign, I worried how a new president would handle the program. When President Donald Trump came into office he pledged to keep DACA. I again felt some relief. But this summer, despite the president’s actions, the uncertainty came rushing back. Texas’ Attorney General threatened to sue the president this September if he doesn’t end DACA.

Ending DACA would put me and 8,400 other young people in Ohio and Kentucky at immediate risk of deportation. After all, since we’re enrolled in DACA, federal officials know where we work or go to school, and live. As the Immigrant Legal Resource Center has told the DACA recipients with whom it works, the U.S. government never has used an administrative program carry out wholesale deportation. It’s time that Congress intervene and provide a permanent legislative solution for the DACAmented.

One option, of course, is to pass a comprehensive immigration plan. President Trump has said he’d “like to” pass full-scale reform, but is worried that the country is not yet ready politically. Based on recent polling it’s obvious Americans are politically ready to offer permanent residency to DACA recipients. About 90 percent of all Americans support President Trump’s decision to keep DACA in place.

The Dream Act would allow DACA-eligible youth a path out of uncertainty and toward permanent residency and reflects the public’s will. I hope Kentucky and Ohio lawmakers will support it and push for a vote on it in September for the sake of all of its residents, DACAmented or not.

Written by Heyra Avila, a Northern Kentucky "Dreamer"