Opinion

With or without DACA, New York must step up for immigrant communities

By Eliana Fernandez |  

September 1, 2017 |  

(Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

I came to the United States when I was 14 years old from Ecuador. I came here to join my parents, who had already been in the U.S. for years, having left our home country because they knew they couldn’t earn enough to send my siblings and me to college.

When I arrived, I was undocumented, and I spent my first 12 years in the United States that way.

Since then, I’ve worked extremely hard to build a life here. Despite not being able to access state financial aid and many other types of support that other New Yorkers are able to get, I was able to graduate from college. Now I’ve just started graduate school. And I’m a proud mother and homeowner, contributing every day to our state with my love, sweat, and tax dollars.

I was able to make it this far because of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program created by President Obama in 2012 to offer protection from deportation and work authorization for young immigrants like me.

Now, that same program is under attack by the Trump administration, which is considering ending it to make its white nationalist supporters happy.

Immigrant youth like me are fighting to defend DACA at the national level. But we also need New York lawmakers to step up by passing the Liberty and DREAM Acts.

Ending DACA would be a tragedy for my family and me. And it would be a disaster for New York.

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For me, losing DACA would be devastating. Without this program, I would no longer have a driver’s license to drive my kids to school or to the doctor. I would not be able to find a job without legal status, and I then wouldn’t be able to pay for my mortgage and my family’s health insurance. It could also mean being separated from my children, as I was from my parents all those years ago. Simply put, my life would be turned upside down.

For New York, it would mean deep damage to our communities, the loss of legal protection for 42,000 DACA beneficiaries, and a negative annual economic impact of $2.3 billion, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress. And we are more than numbers or pieces of paper. We are doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and attorneys serving our communities.

My parents’ immigrant dreams have paid off. My siblings and I have all graduated from college, with degrees in mathematics, engineering and sociology. And 800,000 immigrant youth who benefit from DACA are just like us.

Whether from a human or an economic perspective, there is just no good reason to end DACA, when the program has given us, and our country, so much.

We are organizing to make sure that Trump and members of Congress hear us and defend DACA. Just this week, we organized a 3,000-person march through midtown Manhattan. And we will keep fighting.

But we also know that the man in the Oval Office is not on our side, and he will keep finding ways to attack us, with or without DACA.

And that’s why it’s so important that New York state step up and take the lead for immigrants.

Other states have shown real leadership. Take Illinois, for example: even under a Republican governor, the state just adopted a Trust Act that will limit cooperation between state law enforcement and Trump’s immigration agents. Other states have ensured state financial aid for immigrant youth like me.

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New York has lagged behind, failing to pass any significant pro-immigrant legislation this year.

When the state Legislature returns it January, it must immediately pass the Liberty Act, which is similar to Illinois’s Trust Act and will protect families like mine. The bill would draw a bright line between immigration enforcement and local law enforcement, making New Yorkers more likely to report crimes they witness or suffer, in the process keeping us all safer.

Our state must also finally pass the DREAM Act, to ensure that immigrant youth have access to state financial aid. With the Trump administration declaring war on our futures, it’s more important than ever that we be able to afford college.

New York has led the way before. With DACA and immigrant families under attack, it’s time for us to lead the way for immigrant communities.

Eliana Fernandez is a case manager at Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. Follow her on Twitter @elianadreams @maketheroadny.

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