Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a Council Member and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and served as a Board Member for the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council. He also serves on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force.  Steve is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire.


MORRISVILLE – Ten years ago this month, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, giving new hope to hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented people who had been brought to the United States as children and knew no other home.

Since then, we’ve seen President Trump strive—and fail—to dismantle DACA. We’ve seen lawmakers strive—and, so far, fail—to give Dreamers permanent lawful status. We’ve seen judges question DACA’s legality, forcing the Biden administration to completely rewrite the federal rules underlying the program.

And along the way, we’ve seen the Dreamers rise above the uncertainty and grow into accomplished young adults, who are making tangible contributions to their communities.

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Four among many

I’m thinking of Ramiro Rodriguez, who cofounded Code the Dream, an amazing Triangle nonprofit that helps people from low-income backgrounds to obtain computer skills to support our state’s businesses. If I hadnt had DACA, Id have been struggling to even open a bank account, not thinking about how to start a business or employ other people,” Ramiro says in the linked story.

Or Martin Rodriguez, a graduate researcher at Wake Forest University. His family left poverty in Mexico; after coming to North Carolina at the age of 9, he obtained a PhD in molecular medicine, and is now developing gene therapies for pediatric blood disorders. DACA was a door to continuing my education, and its definitely as essential as ever,” Martin says in the linked story.

Or Leslie Arreaza, whose parents fled violence in Guatemala when she was 7. Today, she’s an autism specialist and teaches in North Carolina’s public schools. “Young immigrants like me are called Dreamers for a reason,” she says in the linked story. “Its because were marked by our dreams, our ambitions and our determination to make a positive difference.”

I’m thinking, too, of people like UNC student Shristi Sharma, an extraordinary young woman who built an app that could one day allow us to diagnose Alzheimer’s based on data from fitness trackers. Shristi is a “Documented Dreamer”—a young person excluded from DACA because her parents played by the rules and came to this country on skilled-worker visas. Processing delays have prevented Shristi’s parents from graduating from temporary visas to green cards—and now Shristi faces having to self-deport when she turns 21 and can no longer be included on her parents’ visas.’

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More fall through the gaps

These are just four stories among many. DACA has helped over 830,000 young people build brighter futures, earn a comfortable living, help provide for their families, and support their communities. Dreamers see their hourly earnings almost double after they receive DACA status, and it becomes far easier for them to qualify for loans, or work to put themselves through college. Six out of 10 DACA recipients say the program made it possible for them to buy their first cars, and 14% have bought homes, lifting the economy for everyone.

But DACA’s 10th anniversary isn’t just a time to acknowledge how much the Dreamers have achieved. It’s also a time to reflect on how badly we, as a nation, have failed them.

As Shristi’s story shows, people are still falling through the gaps: there are over 250,000 young documented Dreamers that DACA does nothing to protect. Many DACA recipients have lost jobs or faced legal trouble after the government failed to process their paperwork in time, leaving them without employment authorization. And many others fear that DACA could one day be revoked, forcing them back into the shadows. TK# Dreamers now have American children. If another administration were to try and cancel DACA, that would be a catastrophe for these families.

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Time is now

It’s time to put an end to this uncertainty. Dreamers have kept their promise to our country. They’ve proven their ability to work within a broken system and play by the rules. Now we must unequivocally welcome them into our great American family. That means a legislative path — a true Dream Act, with support for Documented Dreamers with a clear path to permanent lawful status and eventual citizenship for all DACA recipients.

A decade is long enough. It’s time for us to give these young people the security and stability they deserve—a real path forward as they continue to build their lives here in America.

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