At the age of ten, I participated in my first protest. My parents had recently explained that we were undocumented, but they also wanted me to understand the dramatic impact that immigrants like us had on America. So on May 1, 2006, my family and I abstained from buying, selling, working, or attending school. I stayed home and watched the demonstrations on Univision with my mom. It was a small act of defiance – and the first time I understood what it meant to be undocumented.
In the 15 years since that protest, the economic arguments for immigration reform have only grown, especially now, as our country emerges from an unprecedented crisis. If we want to boost our economy, rebuild and repair America from the catastrophic impacts of the pandemic, Congress needs to create a path to citizenship for Dreamers and essential workers. While I commend the Biden administration for showing support for the DACA program last month, it’s mostly a symbolic gesture and not enough. We’re still living in limbo. Congressional action is needed for real change. Millions of undocumented immigrants like myself and my family are counting on it.
Undocumented immigrants have long played an essential — yet often invisible — role in the American economy. Over 10.5 million undocumented immigrants pay billions in state, local, and federal taxes and have a massive spending power of almost $215 billion, according to New American Economy. If paths to legalization for Dreamers, farmworkers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and essential workers were created, tax revenues would increase by $31 billion and $121 billion would be added to the U.S. economy each year, according to an analysis by FWD.us. Americans also want good jobs; over 800,000 undocumented entrepreneurs across the nation help create them, while providing vital services to our communities. We want our economy to flourish and undocumented immigrants are key to doing so.
I grew up in San Antonio hearing about America’s broken immigration system and the political pandering that impeded reform. As a teenager, while I crushed on the cute boy in my English class, I could never shake the nagging feeling that I would never fit in. I was terrified that one day ICE could show up at my door and deport my family. In 2012 President Obama created DACA, and for the first time, I felt that I had a future. I was finally like my peers.
After high school, I became an immigration reform advocate. I worked on Capitol Hill for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, graduated college, married the cute boy from that English class, and got a full-ride to one of the nation’s best public affairs graduate programs. Thanks to DACA, I achieved more than I could have imagined. But the nagging fear from my childhood persists. I live and plan my life in two-year segments, and I fear more devastating blows to the program that has given me everything. Deportation could separate me from my family and U.S. citizen husband.
My parents also have no pathway to citizenship. In the early days of the pandemic, they risked their lives showing up to work — my mom as a housekeeper and my dad as a catering company manager and bartender — and then were both laid off without any safety nets. It hurts to hear people say undocumented immigrants are taking resources from the government when we paid more than $350 billion in taxes in 2019 but were ineligible for stimulus checks. They are now back to work, risking their lives again despite the Delta variant and helping their community. Recently, my dad has been packing meals for those displaced from Hurricane Ida. In fact, two-thirds of undocumented workers, like my parents, serve in essential industries.
It’s time to remind our elected leaders in the Senate that immigrants are — and have always been — the foundation of our workforce. We love this country and want the same rights and privileges as everyone else. I’m tired of living in fear. But I will continue to hold on. Every day, the sacrifices of my family and my faith in the American Dream pull me through.
Andrea Rathbone Ramos, formerly Fernandez, is a DACA recipient, a small business and data assistant at the American Business Immigration Coalition, and a graduate student at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service.