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DACA recipients to Congress: Act now before it's too late

Edilsa Lopez stands outside at night, grinning and holding her baby daughter in front of a holiday decorated building.
Photo courtesy of Edilsa Lopez
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Edilsa Lopez came to Texas from Guatemala at the age of 12. She's now an accountant, mom and DACA recipient. She's urging Congress to pass legislative protections for all DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals.

DACA recipients from around the country, including Texas, will meet with Congressional leaders and staff on Wednesday and urge them to enact protective measures during the lame duck session.

Edilsa Lopez says she’s exhausted. Like others who came to the U.S. as children and now have temporary protections to live and work in the country, the 30-year-old is tired of waiting on Congress to act.

“We are already like U.S. residents that we pay our taxes,” said Lopez, who came from Guatemala when she was 12. “We work here. We went to college here. We're parents now, and we have children to take care of. So, it is terrible to live in uncertainty.”

Lopez, who lives in Austin and is an accountant, is one of nearly 600,000 individuals enrolled in the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Another 400,000 or so immigrants are eligible but unable to enroll due to ongoing legal challenges to the program.

On Wednesday, she and other DACA recipients from around the country will meet with Congressional leaders and staff to share their stories and urge them to adopt legislation that would give them permanent protections from deportation.

Persuading Congress

The pressure on Congress to act has been mounting. It comes at a time when some elected leaders, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, have been relentless in their opposition to illegal immigration and calls for securing the border. All of this political rhetoric is yet another reason why those with DACA status say there’s no time to waste.

DACA recipients and advocates worry that if Congress doesn’t act during the lame duck session, the program — which is only a temporary measure — will end up getting axed.

After a series of rulings, the case is back with U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas, who many believe will rule against the program again. If so, the case would likely return to the Supreme Court.

“This is my third time in D.C. flying to meet with congressmen from both sides of the aisle and they just keep on talking and talking,” said Diego Corzo, 32, of Austin. “I think it’s time that they finally put an importance to find a solution — a long-term solution — for the DACA recipients, for the Dreamers, so that we stop living in limbo.”

Diego Corzo wears a bright red, long-sleeve shirt and stands before an audience indoors as he talks into a microphone.
Courtesy of Diego Corzo
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Diego Corzo came to the U.S. from Peru when he was 9. He's a Realtor in Austin and is urging Congressional leaders to pass a permanent legislative solution for DACA recipients like himself.

Economic contributions

Corzo was 9 when he and his family came to the U.S. from Peru looking for better economic opportunities. He graduated third in his high school class, graduated from college with two degrees and now works as a Realtor and real estate investor. Corzo said he bought his first property when he was 23 and now, ten years later, he owns around 60 properties.

“I am just one story and I believe DACA recipients are an asset to this country,” Corzo said. “Some people think that DACA recipients don’t pay taxes, that we’re not supporting the economy and that we’re here for a free ride. And that’s not true.”

According to the Center for American Progress, which bills itself as an independent, nonpartisan policy institute, DACA recipients in Texas pay an estimated $782 million in federal taxes and about $436 million in state and local taxes.

A perilous journey to Texas

For Lopez, when she thinks about her DACA status, she remembers the perilous journey she made with her mom as a child. At one point, she was separated from her mom and the group she was traveling with. She was kidnapped and held in someone’s house until she managed to escape, later reuniting with her mom with the help of a stranger.

Despite that experience, Lopez said she and her family felt they had no choice but to leave their country of Guatemala. There they lived in extreme poverty and with a physically abusive father.

“I consider myself like a survivor, surviving many things that could have taken my life away, that could have taken my dreams away,” she said. “And today, you know, I’m a college graduate and I’m also a mother who has worked really hard to get to where I am.”

Lopez said she wants members of Congress to understand the emotional rollercoaster she and others have been on.

“But it also gives us fear and uncertainty about planning our future,” she said. “It makes us believe that we have no future here.”

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.