Dear President Trump, My name is Juan Escalante. I am a long time Florida resident, the oldest of three brothers, and a two-time graduate of Florida State University. I am also an undocumented immigrant who considers myself American in all ways but one — on paper.
My family and I came to the United States in 2000, shortly after Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela. My parents had the foresight to predict the current chaos engulfing the oil-rich nation, which is why they left their family, belongings, and home in exchange for a chance to pursue the American Dream.
However, my family’s hopes of eventually becoming U.S. citizens were dashed in 2006, when we discovered that our immigration attorney mishandled our case. Nevermind that my family spent six years and thousands of dollars waiting in the infamous “line” immigrants are often told to get in — a line which does not actually exist.
Nor did it matter that my parents had started to build a business of their own, paid taxes, and sent me and my younger brothers to public school in Miami-Dade and Broward County. No. The only thing that mattered to the government was that my family could face deportation due to our lack of a couple of papers.
In 2007, after watching my mother cry inside an admissions office at Florida International University when she discovered that our immigration status meant a paralyzing financial burden when it came to paying for my college education, I became an immigration advocate.
For the past ten years, I have fearlessly and unapologetically advocated for the rights of the immigrant community. I have helped organize sit-ins inside congressional offices in support of the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would allow young immigrants like myself to adjust our status. I have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures denouncing your stance on immigration, a clear expression of my First Amendment right of free speech. And I have lobbied for in-state tuition for undocumented students in Florida, an effort that earned Florida Governor Scott’s personal recognition back in 2014.
I am proud of my work as an immigration advocate, mainly because it has allowed me to overcome my fear of being deported, but also because it has allowed me to help families across the United States deal with the anxiety and depression that comes with being undocumented.
However, I am even prouder of the obstacles I have been able to overcome as an undocumented immigrant.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), which was announced by President Obama in 2012, provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants with the opportunity to live free from the fear of deportation. It also gave to them a sense of freedom, thanks to the work permits and driver’s licenses it led to.
That freedom that young undocumented immigrants have enjoyed for the past five years has yielded significant gains for the United States. Thanks to DACA young immigrants have been able to pursue higher education, have started their own business, while others continue to work and contribute back to their communities. All of these young people are aspiring Americans, who are working day and night to ensure that they make use of their temporary deportation protection to give back to, not take from, the country they call home.
Ending DACA means disrupting the lives of almost a million people. Some of these young people may be your critics, myself included. Others may be working on their degrees or helping create jobs for American citizens. However, the truth is that, politics aside, all of them want to give back to this great country.
Mr. President, just as your parents wanted you to succeed, and just as you want your children to succeed, my parents took a great risk for my future. It’s what families do. My family and I do not have a pathway towards citizenship, not today, tomorrow, or ever. That is why DACA is so important.
Right now, DACA beneficiaries, often known as Dreamers, enrich this country with their talents, culture, and determination. All they want is for you to allow them to work and study without using them as targets for deportation or prey for the white supremacists who wish to see them sent back to a country that they do not know.
By Juan Escalante
Juan Escalante is the Digital Campaigns Manager for America’s Voice and America’s Voice Education Fund.