Four years ago today (June 15), a life-changing program began: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program, crafted by President Obama, promised security and opportunity for people who came to the U.S. as children. In the last four years, DACA has provided more than 700,000 people nationally and 36,000 in New York State the opportunity to get work authorization and live without fear of deportation.
This includes me.
When I was a few months old, my father, mother, sister and I came to the U.S. from Chile. We lived in a relative’s basement, sleeping on two queen-sized beds in one room. My mother worked as a house cleaner while my father worked in catering and at a limousine service. It wasn’t easy, but my parents strived to give my sister and me a semblance of the average American life. They always stressed the importance of education and worked hard to ensure that we received the resources we needed to thrive in school.
Eventually we were able to move into a three-bedroom apartment and take the occasional family vacation to Florida—even if we had to take a van to get there. My sister was able to go to college without straining our family financially because any New York resident who completes their high school education here is eligible for in-state tuition at a state or city institution, regardless of immigration status.
But despite the hope that I could go to college like my sister, I still didn’t think I would be able to pursue a professional career—or any career at all—because I didn’t have work authorization. The jobs I would be studying for were out of my reach.
Then President Obama announced the start of DACA. This meant that I could fulfill my ambitions and pursue internships that I wouldn’t have been able to access without work authorization. I was able to find a paying, part-time job while doing multiple internships, including one with the New York City Mayor’s Office. That led to my current career at City Hall and my chance to represent the city I call home.
My experience demonstrates why DACA is good for New York City and the country. But we can’t stop there. DACA is just a reprieve. And Congress continues to delay the fixing of our broken immigration system. Unlike the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) that President Reagan signed in 1986, which granted permanent status to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, DACA doesn’t provide a path to permanence—neither citizenship nor even permanent legal status.
Immigration reform would not only provide immense benefits to immigrants. It would result in significant long-term economic benefits for the U.S., according to the Congressional Budget Office.
When I first heard about DACA, I was excited because it provided an opportunity for me to pursue a professional career path and express my dedication to New York City.
On this fourth anniversary of DACA, I urge Congress to create a pathway to permanent legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants so that our contributions to America can continue to grow.
Raul Contreras grew up in Long Island, New York, and is a graduate of the City University of New York-Hunter College. Currently he is an assistant press secretary at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press office.