This piece originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.
When people talk about immigration, I hear the same idea over and over: “Get in line and wait your turn.” As an immigrant myself, I can tell you that line doesn’t exist for everyone.
So as Congress works toward its priorities through the end of this year, I ask them and all of you, their voters, to consider the issues that greatly affect our community and economy, like immigration reform. Resolving the immediate need for our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients’ futures in Florida and across the country is a step in the right direction.
When my parents brought our family to the United States from Venezuela in 2000, we were fleeing the Hugo Chavez administration, as well as the the countless threats of violence made against us. We feared for our lives and were seeking safety in the country we’d come to know as “the land of opportunities.”
We tried “to get in line,” filing all the necessary paperwork to apply for a green card and waiting in long lines. But our immigration case fell apart after our immigration lawyer provided my parents with bad legal advice. For the majority of the time we’ve been here, my family has lived in fear of being torn apart, which is exactly what happened to more than a half million parents from 2009 to 2013.
When the Obama Administration initiated the DACA program, which allows certain undocumented immigrants the ability to work, study and be temporarily shielded from deportation, everything changed. My life was transformed overnight because we could finally pursue higher education and other opportunities.
I earned a master’s degree in public administration from Florida State University in 2015. And now I work as the communications manager for America’s Voice, a nonprofit in Washington D.C. that helps enact policy changes that guarantee full labor, civil and political rights for immigrants and their families.
Contrary to what some politicians may tell you, immigrants are not a drain on America’s resources. In fact, our being here is of great benefit to the economy. Nationally, 90 percent of the DACA-eligible population is employed at jobs that allowed us to pay $3 billion in state and federal taxes in 2015.
According to research from New American Economy, legislation that grants undocumented young people a pathway to citizenship would add $329 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030. It would also add an additional $5.6 billion in state and federal household income tax revenue and $4.6 billion in federal business tax revenue.
Our country is already so divided, the last thing we need is a system that forces aspiring Americans to continue to live in the shadows. Instead, we need a system that allows people to have real opportunities to contribute to society freely, give back and, yes, eventually apply to become citizens.
That’s why I’m joining voices across the country for the #iMarch for Immigration Campaign to ask our members of Congress to take action.
Together, we can demonstrate to Congress why Dreamers are essential to the American success story.
Juan Escalante is an immigration advocate and beneficiary of President Barack Obama’s 2012 DACA program. He obtained degrees from FSU College of Social Sciences and Public Policy in 2011 and 2015 and lives in Tallahassee.
The featured image is from United We Dream.