I came to the US when I was only 2 years old. Without action from Congress, I could be deported to a country I’ve never known.

Karen Reyes
  • There are 2.1 million Dreamers in this country.
  • Dreamers should not have to live in uncertainty.
  • DACA recipients are calling on lawmakers to pass the American Dream and Promise Act.
  • Karen Reyes came to the US when she was two years old. She now lives in Austin, Texas, and works as a special education teacher.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I am a DACA recipient. I am one of 2.1 million Dreamers in this country. While we share many of the same concerns, we are not the same. We are all unique in our experiences, stories, and jobs. Some of us are health care workers on the frontlines fighting the coronavirus, some of us are in the food service industry, and some of us are teachers. But there are two things we hold in common: the love we have for the only country we have called home, and the fear of us being taken from it. While DACA has given us some protection against deportations, the last four years have shown us that the threat of being removed from this country is still there.

With the American Dream and Promise Act having just passed the House, and a president ready and willing to sign it, the end to that constant worry feels closer than ever.

If this bill is signed into law, it will allow undocumented immigrants or Dreamers brought to the US as children to earn permanent resident status and eventual citizenship. It also includes a path to citizenship for at least 300,000 people with temporary protected status or Deferred Enforced Departure. There is harmful anti-immigrant rhetoric that flourished under the Trump administration, and there is a case in Texas challenging the legality of the program. But this bill says Dreamers are here to say.

For many years, Dreamers have lived in a state of anxiety. We have lived with worries about the fate of DACA, whether we’ll be deported, and whether our families will be protected. Under the Biden Administration, DACA recipients have been given some sense of relief, but if the American Dream and Promise Act does not pass the Senate, Dreamers like me will continue to live in uncertainty.

I came to the US when I was two years old in 1991 with my mom. We settled in San Antonio, where I grew up. Like many Dreamers, I didn’t know I was undocumented, but there were clues about my status. My mom was wary of police officers and traveling, for instance. I found out that I was undocumented when my mom told me I couldn’t take part on a trip to the Mexico border with my high school friends because I didn’t have “papers.” A few years later, I got my undergraduate degree in education and planned to become a teacher.

I started graduate school in 2012 but questioned whether I would be able to work as an educator. Then, a couple of weeks later, DACA was announced. I was driving home from picking up a textbook, and my mom called and told me that President Obama had announced that immigrants who came to this country at a young age and have no ties to their country of origin may remain in the US and work without fear of deportation. We both cried on the phone. It meant that I could work in the field that I love, drive without fear, and live without the threat of deportation.

The Biden administration is a welcome relief after years of attacks on our immigrant community. Many undocumented folks experience wage theft – being underpaid, or exploited for their labor – food insecurity, and financial insecurity because they don’t qualify for stimulus checks and other forms of government assistance.

The Dream Act is a way to provide a pathway toward citizenship for millions of Dreamers, who many elected officials say they support. But I’ve learned that you can’t just hope for things to change. Dreamers like me will continue to fight for all immigrants, but now is the time for the Senate to finally take this major first step, and pass the American Dream and Promise Act.

Karen Reyes is a special education teacher in Austin, Texas. Reyes joined her union, AFT, in a lawsuit by the NAACP against Trump over DACA filed in 2018.

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Activists want Democrats to use their majorities to give undocumented immigrants permanent relief from deportation

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Demonstrators protest outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Service office in Miami, on February 20, 2021, demanding that the administration of US President Joe Biden cease deporting Haitian immigrants back to Haiti.

  • Activists want Democrats to use their majorities to provide permanent relief to undocumented immigrants.
  • They expect two bills to be introduced to protect Dreamers, TPS recipients, and farm workers.
  • Executive actions to protect immigrants have been subject to conservative legal challenges.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Democrats now control the House and the presidency, and narrowly control the Senate, and activists want them to use their power, and with any means available, to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation.

“This is our time,” Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, said on a conference call Wednesday. Her group – a youth-led immigrant rights organization that claims 400,000 members – is calling on Congress to pass the Dream & Promise Act, legislation that would prohibit the federal government from deporting those who came to the United States as children, as well as anyone who has received Temporary Protected Status after having fled a natural or man-made disaster.

President Joe Biden has pledged not to deport members of either group, but unilateral executive action is always subject to legal challenges; a 100-day total moratorium on deportations, for example, was recently overturned by a conservative judge responding to litigation from Texas’ Republican attorney general.

“Our movement delivered a clear political mandate,” Martinez Rosas, an immigrant from Mexico who has lived in the US since she was a young child, said on the call. Democrats have “a moral and political obligation to see it through,” she argued, adding that the legislation should be passed without any compromises that see more funding go toward border enforcement.

Introduced in 2019 by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat, the bill passed the House, with the support of all Democrats and seven Republicans, but went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate. Activists expect it to be reintroduced shortly in lieu of the comprehensive reform package proposed by President Biden, which would provide a path to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“We are saying clearly to Democrats that they must use every available pathway, including legalization in the upcoming COVID jobs package, and any other effort to ensure that we have protections for undocumented people,” Martinez Rosas said.

Under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, many immigrants who came to the US as children are eligible to obtain work permits and protection from being forcibly removed from the country. But DACA requires its recipients to renew that protection every two years; the lack of permanency exacerbated by shifts in the political landscape.

Joella Roberts, a DACA recipient who came to the US as a child from Trinidad and Tobago, said it’s a mark of progress that that legalization is on Congress’ agenda, reflecting “the growing power of our movement.” And she praised lawmakers for ensuring that misdemeanor convictions – and possession of marijuana – would not make one ineligible. But, she said, “I would be remiss if I did not mention our disappointment with the criminal bars that are still in place.”

Activists also expect Democrats to introduce another measure that could provide a pathway to citizenship for around one million undocumented farmworkers and their families. Votes on both pieces of legislation are expected before the House’s March 22 recess.

“It is long overdue for Congress to recognize the integral role that immigrants play in our communities and in the nation for food security,” Andrea Delgado, government affairs director at the United Farm Workers Foundation, said Wednesday. “We look forward to the imminent introduction of these bills and to sending them over to the Senate, where we will continue to build power and demand change.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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