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Keep Dreaming

When DACA hits home

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When President Donald Trump announced he was ending DACA, the governmental program that gave immigrants like myself who came here as children the right to work, I worried that my world would come crashing down. Immediately, I agonized how I would pay my mortgage and car loan and support my wife and 5-year-old son if I were to lose my job as an information technology manager.

Now, as the deadline for Congress to save DACA has come and gone, I feel as if I'm suspended in slow motion. My current authorization allows me to work until the fall of 2019. Then what? Although I'm lucky to be settled in a good job for now at a community service nonprofit, so many of Utah's estimated 13,600 DACA recipients are in limbo. They worry if they should postpone college plans to work and save money while they still have the right.

All of our lives are on hold while we wait for Congress to act. In the meantime, a federal court ordered that we could apply for a renewal of our protected status. The thing is, no one knows how long that'll last.

This lack of inertia is particularly frustrating because both Democrats and Republicans are in agreement about protecting Dreamers. Just last week, 50 chambers of commerce, including the Salt Lake Chamber, Sandy Area Chamber and the Utah Hispanic Chamber, signed an open letter to Congressional leadership calling for bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers.

It's a relief to know these business leaders recognize the important role we Dreamers play in keeping our workforce young and competitive, contributing to the tax base and creating jobs for all Americans. I was just 11 years old when my mother brought me and my two older brothers to Salt Lake City from Mexico in search of a better life. I fought hard to learn English in a new school where barely anyone spoke Spanish. I'm the first child in my family to graduate high school, and I worked as a restaurant cashier to put myself through college, first at Salt Lake Community College and later, at the University of Utah.

Those who think we leech off the federal government should chew on this: In the Beehive State, more than 91 percent of Dreamers are employed and pay taxes, according to the coalition New American Economy. Nationally, the vast majority have graduated from high school and taken at least one college course.

I'm proud that I've succeeded in achieving part of the American dream. I own a home, support my family and help out my mom, who works as a seamstress. I love my job at Holy Cross Ministries and do my part to keep the organization up and running so we can empower Utah's poorest communities. But I can't tell you how difficult it is to wake up every day with this sense of dread that nothing has been resolved.

I call on Congress to protect our ability to raise our families and give back to our communities now. Please don't lose this political momentum. Please don't forget about us.

West Valley City-based Leonel Nieto is director of data and IT operations at Holy Cross Ministries. Send feedback to comments@cityweekly.net

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