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Being brave comes inherently to you as an immigrant. The road toward the American dream is paved with obstacles to overcome.
When I was 5, my parents brought me to the United States, escaping poverty and hardship, wanting to ensure a better life and future for their children. My dad found work as a hotel maintenance manager, and my mom became a housekeeper. This country has always been my home.
High school became the most difficult part of my journey. I could not apply for a driver’s license or college financial aid. The few scholarships I could apply for could barely begin to cover college expenses.
Understanding your limitations in being able to reach your goals and dreams is heart-breaking. I got told too many times why I could not go to college and that I should choose a more technical degree. But I worked at it until I found a solution and people who saw beyond my immigration status.
Finally my college dreams became a reality, and I spent the next six years working full time while going to school and finally graduated from college with a bachelor of science degree.
After graduating, though my wife and I both had college degrees, we had to face the fact that we could not pursue our careers due to our immigration status. My wife became a nanny, and I found work doing anything from plumbing and electrical to drywall and landscaping.
As the years passed, we grew tired of living in fear and felt hopeless. Some comfort was found in attending our local church. We came to Christ and placed our trust and our hope for a better life in Him. We decided that fear would not drive our decisions.
It was around this time that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was instituted. My wife and I could have a taste of the American dream and finally achieve milestones like buying a car and owning a home.
We felt so blessed and decided to give back as much as we could. I began coaching my daughter’s soccer team and served on a few boards for nonprofit organizations. My wife began volunteering at a school for teen moms, became part of church leadership and involved herself in our children’s school programs.
When we heard that DACA was ending, we were gripped with fear. We cried for days thinking about the fate of our family. How do you tell your children, “We’re not wanted; we are different,” when you’ve worked so hard to give them an American dream?
Some political leaders want to paint all immigrants as dangerous, unproductive members of society. These are not the Dreamers I know, who have worked hard and paid their dues. Dreamers are not asking for a handout, just a line to get in — a way to earn citizenship, with appropriate background checks and rigorous requirements.
My fellow Dreamers and I urgently turn to Congress for leadership. We believe Republicans and Democrats must reach across partisan aisles to pass a permanent legislative solution for us — one that benefits all Americans. Deporting hundreds of thousands of Dreamers would not only harm the economy, risking the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars in fiscal contributions. It also would contradict everything this country represents, including opportunity for people who work hard to support their family and community.
Republicans in Congress have a huge opportunity right now. They can earn well-deserved credit for providing a permanent legislative solution that honors our values. Support for such a solution is high among law enforcement and local and national Christian leaders, conservatives and hundreds of CEOs.
I have so much to be grateful for. If given a chance, I and many other Dreamers will work even harder to bless our community and country. We are waiting for a path forward, and we urge members of Congress to forge one quickly.
Jonathan Alfonseca is the executive director of The Thomas Garage in Englewood.
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