This labor day weekend, I was fortunate to speak with immigrants in the Reading, Pennsylvania, area and share their stories as part of a literary project called Writing Wrongs. The project, which aims to shed light on a different social issue each year, allowed me to hear from the former supervisor of the Berks County Youth Center and ICE Family Shelter Care Program, an immigration lawyer and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient named Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez.
This year turned out to be one of the more timely events because mere hours after hearing Gonzalez’s story, Politico reported President Donald Trump planned to rescind the program with a six-month delay, leaving its fate in the hands of Congress. Though all the stories I heard this weekend impacted me greatly, Gonzalez’s did in particular because of the perspective it offered on this decision.
There’s a chance you’ve heard of Gonzalez before. He has been featured in The New York Times — among many other publications — and even a CNBC documentary. Originally born in the Dominican Republic, he came to the U.S. with his mother at the age of 11 after his family’s situation deteriorated following the death of his father. Despite excelling academically in high school, Gonzalez’s financial situation meant affording tuition at community college was a struggle. His undocumented status also meant he had to pay international rates and could not receive financial aid. Eventually, though, Gonzalez found a situation that suited him at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and he now has two master’s degrees from the University of Cambridge and Tsinghua, as well, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar and Schwarzman Scholar, respectively. He now advocates for immigrants with the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, is a model citizen and because of President Trump’s decision, his future is in doubt.
For those of you who ask why Gonzalez does not apply for citizenship, it’s because he can’t. For one, people cannot apply for citizenship within the U.S. and Clinton-era bars mean that if he were to leave the country, he could not apply to immigrate for 10 years. That’s 10 years in addition to at least 12 more years waiting for a visa through a sibling sponsorship (his sister married a U.S. citizen), according to the Whitt Law Firm. So, his only other option is the slim chance that he meets and marries the love of his life in the next six months, which seems unlikely. Effectively, if no progress is made in congress regarding this issue, Gonzalez will have to leave the country.
What struck me most about Gonzalez’s presentation was when he mentioned that the latter has always been an option. He could have gone to Canada or maybe even Australia, but he stays in the U.S. because he loves the country — it’s his home. When I considered this in the context of all the other stories I had heard that weekend, I noticed a similar thread. All of these immigrants love this country dearly; all of them would be citizens if they could; and all of them are willing to work incredibly hard to carve out a life for themselves here. The American Dream is still very much alive within these communities.
DACA recipients are not given a free ride. The application alone costs nearly $500, and getting permission to work just means these folks are contributing to Social Security and paying income taxes. The estimated hit to the U.S. economy if DACA workers are deported will be $33 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Center for American Progress.
Let’s also keep it in perspective why immigrants come to the U.S. illegally in the first place. Please get over the idea that everyone wants to be an American. Many people who look like me cannot even fathom the level of poverty and violence that occurs in some of the countries these immigrant’s parents fled from. I feel confident enough to say that if many of the people who criticize DACA were faced with a similar situation, they would take the chance to save their children.
When I let the weekend marinate, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed. It made me consider all that I take for granted from being fortunate enough to be born here. It made me consider whether my ancestors even came here legally. But most of all, it showed me that a lot of these immigrants were more patriotic than me.
I am deeply saddened by this decision to rescind DACA, and hope that Congress can get its act together to protect these dreamers. I implore you to be cognizant of the fact that there are real people and stories behind this otherwise macro issue. Don’t lose the faces within the statistics.