In 1996, my father married my mother, a Peace Corps volunteer and educator from Wisconsin, in his home country of the Dominican Republic. To the rich, the DR is a tropical paradise, to the natives it is a place of fear and economic depression.
It was for this reason that, after saying their vows, they emigrated to the United States, leaving behind his parents, six brothers and a sister. He came in pursuit of the American dream and the ability to raise a family in a country where a decent wage is possible.
In 1998 my fatherʼs older brother immigrated to Boston with his wife, two daughters, both in elementary school, and his kindergarten son. The only difference between my father’s immigration story and my uncle’s is legality.
My uncle couldnʼt achieve legal status for himself or his family. Nonetheless it was his desire and his hope that the United States could provide a better education and a better life. His new home did not disappoint.
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Years later his eldest daughter, Jeanny, was diagnosed with epilepsy, and on one unfortunate night, as she was commuting from her high school in the city to her home in the outskirts, she fell down and seized in a park. This traumatic experience pushed her to pursue a career in medicine.
Thanks to President Obamaʼs Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and years of hard work and education, she became a radiologist at a local hospital.
She embodies the person that DACA strives to help. Now the program that educated and allowed my cousin to work and many others like her to do the same may cease to exist for reasons that puzzle me. The current administration and some in Congress believe that the current administration overreached in his executive power while drafting the policy.
Whatever the case may be, Congress and President Trump must protect our DACA immigrants, who in good faith, put their lives in the hands of the U.S. government. Now, it is easy to get caught up in the emotional side of this debate, but it is more important for us to look at this from a statistical and logical standpoint.
DACA immigrants are unable to collect Medicaid and welfare, but they do pay taxes on their income. Ninety-one percent of DACA recipients are currently employed. They contribute rather than cause a burden on our society. And if there is no suitable replacement for the program, our economy could lose $460 billion dollars in the next decade, according to the Center for American Progress.
The incarceration rate of Dreamers is much lower than the rate of native-born Americans. We currently have 900 Dreamer servicemen and servicewomen defending the Constitution in our military right now. And across the country, 1,800 Democratic and Republican Congressional representatives, Senators, council members and mayors support the program.
The issue is at play here in the Valley with 20,000 of our neighbors, friends, families, coworkers and loved ones benefiting from the program. Regardless of position, we must see these immigrants for who they are. People. People who were brought here by their parents, so they could have better lives, get an education, raise families. They want their kids and their kids’ kids to do the same.
From wherever they may hail from, whether it be Mexico, Sudan, the Dominican Republic, we must not rip them from their homes in the United States. We must not force them to go to a country where they have no experience. We must push Congress to act swiftly and without regret into fixing or replacing DACA with a viable solution. We should, no, we must protect our DACA immigrants.
Nico Stacy-Alcántara is a student at Bullard High School. She delivered this speech during the recent Academic Decathlon, where she won a gold award.