Fatima Diaz doesn’t remember much about her life in Jalisco, Mexico — she moved to the United States with her family when she was 11 months old, and has lived here since.
The 21-year-old California State University Sacramento student grew up in Lincoln, where she stood up in a classroom for the Pledge of Allegiance daily like most youth.
Diaz says she didn’t even become aware of her status as an undocumented immigrant until her sophomore year in high school, when she considered joining the military and learned she wasn’t eligible.
“The U.S. is the only home I know,” she said. “I began to walk, read and write here. This is where I learned the American values of hard work and equality.”
Now, Diaz and other “Dreamers,” immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, face the possibility of being unable to work legally in the U.S. — or even deported back to their county of origin. President Donald Trump in September rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, which had protected young people brought to the U.S. at an early age from deportation and provided them with a legal means to work.
The program will end March 5.
Diaz, a third-year student at Sacramento State, fears that once her DACA protections expire she won’t be able to work legally after she graduates, or could be deported to Mexico. “I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am today, and just the fact that it’s getting taken away from me, I don’t know what I am going to do,” she told the Business Journal.
Diaz and other DACA recipients were joined by Sacramento business leaders at a Wednesday news conference at Sacramento State. Participants included members of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the California Restaurant Association, the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other organizations who signed a letter calling on Congress to advance legislation by the end of the year that would provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship.
The event was organized by FWD.us, an organization founded by technology industry leaders that advocates for immigration and criminal justice reform.
Robert Dugan, senior vice president of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, said just under 20,000 undocumented immigrants live in Sacramento County — with 95 percent of that population either employed or in college.
Dugan told the Business Journal he fears the impact that rescinding the DACA policy will have on that population and the region’s economy.
“If we don’t get DACA fixed and we have to start seeing these folks move to a country that they did not grow up in, they are going to have to leave their jobs,” Dugan said. “We’re already looking at workforce deficiencies in some areas. Most of the DACA folks I know are very industrious about creating a good, quality life for themselves and they’ve got meaningful employment or they are working toward meaningful employment in colleges and universities here in the region. We’ll lose those folks in our workforce.”
Cathy Rodriguez, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who described herself as the daughter of an immigrant, said undocumented immigrants pay millions of dollars in taxes and strengthen the middle class, adding that those who applied for DACA gave their personal information willingly because they “trusted our country, because it’s their country. We’ve now put our students, their families, all the people that trust us to do the right thing in jeopardy.”
She added, “the work permits have empowered the Dreamers to work hard, purchase cars, homes and other goods and services to fuel our economy.”
Rodriguez said there are around 515,000 DACA recipients in California. Several estimates say around 800,000 people could lose the ability to work or face deportation once their DACA protections expire.
Matthew Sutton, senior vice president of the California Restaurant Association, said Dreamers are a “critical, critical part” of the restaurant industry.
“Depending on what public policy looks like in the coming years, there is a real opportunity for the restaurant community to grow, and the number of jobs as well.” Sutton said, adding that losing 800,000 immigrants from the workforce would be a “major disruption” that could cost employers $3.4 billion.
Sacramento State has around 1,000 students who are undocumented immigrants, according to Viridiana Diaz, the university’s assistant vice president of strategic diversity initiatives. She oversees Sacramento State’s Dream Resource Center, which provides informational services to students like Diaz.
The letter from the group is being forwarded to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Reps. Ami Bera, D-Sacramento; John Garamendi, D-Yuba City; Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; and Tom McClintock, R-Roseville.
Source: Sacramento Business Journal