If you’ve ever played a competitive sport, you know what it means to strive against the odds, push the limit and never, ever quit. These are lessons that I learned growing up as a state-ranked tennis player in Miami. But they apply equally well to my status as an undocumented immigrant from Chile. My whole life, I have striven to overcome the obstacles presented by my immigration status — to prove to this country that I am not just a capable member of society but also a valuable one.
In President Trump’s speech to Congress last week, he focused on the threat of immigrants committing crimes. Yet amid his talk of deporting 11 million unauthorized immigrants, he has left us guessing what he plans to do about those of us who came to the United States as children. In Florida alone, almost 50,000 young people like me are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which gives us the right to work and study here without fear of deportation.
I hope the president understands what such a loss would mean to America’s economic and civic future.
Americans have a lot of stereotypes about who undocumented immigrants are — or, more pointedly —what we’re not. Surely we’re not competitive tennis coaches or college graduates. But that’s a basic snapshot of my life at the moment. I am an assistant coach at St. Thomas University in Miami, where I am also studying for my master’s degree in communications. I am a highly engaged member of the community — one I know the university doesn’t want to lose.
And I am not alone in the contributions that I make. In my larger community — Florida’s 26th congressional district — immigrants of all stripes give back a tremendous amount. We pay roughly $2 billion in taxes and wield $6.5 billion in spending power, according to research by New American Economy, a bi-partisan non-profit that studies the impact of immigration on the economy. More than 17,000 immigrants in my district own a business. And, perhaps most astonishing, is the fact that nearly 68 percent of immigrants here are considered of working age (between 25-64), while only 43 percent of native-born Americans fall within this range. In our part of the country, if you were to take away undocumented immigrants like myself, there would be many more jobs available than the native population could fill.
I understand that many Americans have concerns about illegal immigration. And I believe in the importance of the rule of law. But it’s important to remember that young people like myself did not have a choice to come here. I was only 3 when my family immigrated and I only learned of my undocumented status at the age of 12. That’s how fully my family was integrated into American society.
So many of my undocumented peers who have temporary legal status through DACA report the same experience. They attend American high schools and colleges, work in professions alongside American citizens, and pay the same taxes that Americans pay. This is the only country they know. Like them, I want to be a part of America, so that I can do my part for America.