Op-Ed: Congress Should Enact DACA Reforms to Support People Like Me

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age by allowing us to earn temporary legal status to live, work, and gain an education here. 

As a DACAmented individual, I’m a devoted educator and community member with a desire to work in higher education, but it wasn’t always this way. I immigrated here from Mexico at the age of 14 with my 11-year-old sister. As a teenager, high school looked anything but clear — I was culture-shocked, living with the feeling that I didn’t have a path forward like my peers. Being undocumented meant my dreams were up in the air, but I remained dedicated to supporting my family and was able to get my GED. 

I went on to graduate from the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) with an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education, Infants and Toddlers. During my time there, I immersed myself into the BMCC student population, especially among the immigrant students, and felt rewarded after exchanging our goals, values, and cultural backgrounds. Ultimately, I was able to harness opportunities to succeed through higher education and become a passionate professional. Today, I’m working towards my masters’ degree in Early Childhood Education with an extension on Bilingual Education at Brooklyn College. 

Overall, I wouldn’t be at this point in my life without DACA.

As a mother of three, I wake up each day worrying that my work and study authorizations will be terminated by a court ruling, which was recently close to becoming reality. U.S. District Judge Hanen of Texas handed down a ruling that directs the Department of Homeland Security to freeze any new DACA applications while continuing to allow for existing DACA recipients to renew their status. Without any sort of legislative solution, our leaders are recklessly toying with the lives, mental health, and Dreamers’ futures. Even with temporary status, I’ve experienced the limited professional opportunities for self-developmental growth. This harms me and my entire community. 

My aspirations as a teacher, mother, student, and coworker are to focus on better serving the low-income immigrant working class which will benefit our state. New York is home to more than 26,000 DACA recipients who are vital to our social, cultural, and economic success. Throughout the pandemic, 9,200 DACA recipients in New York stepped up to work essential jobs, all while their place in America remained uncertain. If we were to lose DACA due to congressional inaction, New York could see an annual GDP loss of $2.3 billion. Our success is New York’s success.

I have successfully raised awareness of the vulnerabilities that undocumented immigrants and their families endure each day, and have brought various communities together to become more empathetic towards our nation’s immigrants. Now, we need Congress to do the same before it’s too late. 

I wake up every day with the hope that Congress will enact reforms such as the bipartisan Dream Act and the American Dream and Promise Act to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented individuals. On campus, I’ve been a beacon of hope for undocumented students, and recognize the privilege it’s been to attend school with scholarships through DACA while living with work authorization and deportation protections. However, we need congressional solutions for all undocumented individuals working to achieve their version of the American Dream. I encourage Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to explore all avenues possible to finally provide Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants like myself with a path to citizenship. 

Dulce Martinez Hernandez is a mother of three, educator, and DACA recipient.

More from Around New York