On September 11, I was in sixth grade.
I remember watching the attack on the World Trade Center and being so angry that all I wanted was to join the US Marines so I could defend my country.
I kept this dream until I was 18, when I went to enlist. But after being turned away, my parents finally explained why: I was born in Mexico, not the United States.
This meant that I was undocumented – had no legal status here – and therefore was not eligible to enlist. I was devastated.
I still am, in fact.
Only 1 solution remains for us ‘Dreamers’
I’m a “dreamer” – one of the millions of undocumented Americans brought here as children. I am also one of nearly 800,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month and has allowed us to stay in the United States to study and work.
That’s exactly what I did by starting my own consulting company in Arizona. My personal story even inspired a creative team to turn it into a musical – ¡Americano! – one who went from the Arizona stage to New York.
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I am grateful for DACA. And now I’m scared too, because on July 6, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument in a case to strike down the DACA program.
The Court of Appeals decision is almost certain to spark a fight in the United States Supreme Court. It will pull the rug out from under all of us trying to build our dreams here. There is only one solution left: for Congress to quickly pass bipartisan legislation that paves the way to citizenship for us “dreamers”.
Without us, labor shortages would be much worse
It’s not just about altruism either.
America needs our hard work, our taxes and our purchasing power. In Arizona alone, there are more than 36,000 DACA-eligible residents, 95% of whom are employed. We create nearly $800 million in household income and pay $180 million in taxes, including $87 million state and local. We have total spending authority of $618 million.
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Among Arizona immigrants in general – both documented and undocumented – more than 71,000 of us are entrepreneurs generating $1.7 billion a year.
We represent 55% landscapers and gardeners, 55% agricultural workers, 5% chambermaids and cleaners, 39% construction workers, 34% janitors and 33% software developers.
Nationally, of the 1.1 million Americans eligible for DACA, 95% of us are employed and nearly 47,000 of us are entrepreneurs. We pay $6.2 billion in taxes and have a total purchasing power of $20.2 billion.
And as the United States recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and faces labor shortages in key areas like agriculture and health care, our hands, our brains and our hearts are needed more than ever.
Give us a path to citizenship
That’s why it’s so important that everyone who cares about Arizona’s economic future urges our state’s lawmakers in DC to immediately get behind a path to citizenship for us. And this legislation should be bipartisan, so it is sustainable, and should also ensure border safety and security.
A path to citizenship would secure Arizona’s and the nation’s future workforce. It would mean that undocumented migrants would finally have a stable and permanent base on which to build careers and families.
And that would mean that we “dreamers” could pursue our dreams without fear that they would all be snatched away.
It would also mean that I could pursue my own childhood dream of serving my country in the Marines. The day I saw the towers fall, I didn’t know I was undocumented. All I knew was that the only home I had ever known was under attack – and I wanted to grow up to protect it.
Antonio Valdovinos is the founder of La Machine Consulting. His life story served as the basis for ¡Americano!, an off-Broadway musical in New York City through June 19.