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Commentary

‘I Am a Good Citizen.’ Immigrants React to Jeff Sessions’ DACA Announcement

Sep 05, 2017

The Trump administration on Tuesday formally announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – an Obama-era program that had been designed to protect some 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

"I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday at a Justice Department news conference. Though new program applications will not be accepted, anyone whose status was set to expire in the next six months are set to be renewed.

To be eligible for DACA, a person had to have come to the U.S. before age 16; be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; have lived in the U.S. since 2007; be currently in school or a high school graduate; a current or honorably discharged member of the military; and have not committed a felony.

The decision comes after a long and emotional debate about immigration.

There are many misconceptions about undocumented people, but perhaps the most troubling one is that they are a collective drain on the economy.

Most are working or in school, many are entrepreneurs, and all are required to pay taxes. According to this March 2017 report from the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants currently pay some $11.74 billion in state and local taxes each year. And, if you’re curious about the economic activity from immigration in your area, The New American Economy, a bipartisan immigration reform coalition, has a powerful tool that maps the number of immigrants, their level of entrepreneurship, taxes paid, and other economic activity by state and district.

But more than just totals in a spreadsheet, undocumented workers are real people whose lives have been hanging in the balance for years. Here are just four stories.

Jesus Contreras, paramedic

The twenty-three-year-old worked six days straight in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, rescuing people from floodwaters and ferrying people in crisis to the hospital. He told Buzzfeed that he only heard the news that DACA was under threat when he finally had a chance to decompress. “Hearing that my future in the United States is being threatened and possibly taken away was disheartening, it was disappointing,” Contreras said. “It was like getting an extra kick to the face when you’re already down.” Had the program been ended while he was working, he would have been immediately pulled from his shift, he surmises. “To think that could’ve happened potentially at a time like this when people need us is terrible,” he said.

Diane Guerrero, actor

5Diane Guerrero, left, in a scene from Season 5 of "Orange Is The New Black."  — Cara Howe/Netflix 

Guerrero, who is best known for her work in the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black" and The CW's "Jane the Virgin," was only 14 years old when she returned home from school one day to find her entire family had been taken by immigration officials and deported to their native Colombia. Her story highlights a little-discussed element of the immigration crisis, the plight of U.S. born children of undocumented workers. She writes about the trauma in her memoir, "In the Country We Love: My Family Divided." "I am here, a citizen of this country and I'm saying, 'Hey, the system failed me. I am a good citizen. I contribute to this country and here I am sharing my story. What are you going to do now?'" she said in a recent interview.

Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist, filmmaker and activist

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Obama Immigration ProgramsWASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: Six-year-old Sophie Cruz (L) speaks during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court next to her father Raul Cruz (2nd L) and supporter Jose Antonio Vargas (R) April 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Texas, which is challenging President Obama's 2014 executive actions on immigration - the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of American and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Alex Wong — Getty Images 

He once profiled Mark Zuckerberg, Al Gore, and other notables. But the Philippine-born, college-educated Pulitzer-prize winning journalist outed himself as an undocumented person at the time when he should have been building his portfolio of stories. In June 2011, he published “My Life As An Undocumented Immigrant,” a groundbreaking essay in the New York Times Magazine which described what it had been like living in secret. “It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful,” he wrote. “And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.” Vargas is the founder and CEO of Define American, an immigration advocacy organization. “I am now a walking conversation that most people are uncomfortable having,” Vargas wrote in Time.

Kok-Leong Seow, student, computer scientist

Kok-Leong Seow was only six years old when his family moved to the U.S. His father works as a waiter, and the family has squeaked by. “We pay taxes, abide by all laws, and don’t live on welfare,” he says in this opinion piece for the New York Times. But now, he’s stuck. Though he graduated Magna Cum Laude in Computer Engineering from Wichita State University, with the new administration, a DACA application wasn’t an option. “I was accepted into graduate school at Columbia University. However, due to my status, I’m unable to obtain a stipend to continue my education,” he says. He also can’t legally work, drive, fly or have health insurance. Though he’s won research awards and has one patent pending, he’s in limbo. “I’m unfazed and undocumented. I’m not going anywhere,” he says.

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