I’ve always loved libraries. When my parents first brought me to Denver from southern Mexico when I was nine years old, the city’s libraries were welcoming and familiar places where I felt like I belonged. I spent countless hours there after school finishing homework, checking out movies or dreaming about visiting the faraway places described in the books I picked off the shelves. Today, I’m a library program associate at the Valdez-Perry branch of the Denver Public Library in the heavily Hispanic Globeville, Elyria and Swansea– or GES – neighborhood. There, I organize homework, science and art programs for kids who come to take refuge in the library just like I did.
But while I work to make the library a safe space for our city’s children, I myself live in constant fear and uncertainty – because in September 2017, President Trump ordered the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, which gives immigrants like me who arrived here as children the right to work and live without fear of deportation. Although a court order allowed me to temporarily extend my status, I worry that I’ll lose my job and my right to stay here with my 8-year-old U.S. citizen son. Yet there’s finally a solution in sight. In June, the House is scheduled to vote on the Dream and Promise Act that would provide permanent legal protections to more than 1.3 million young immigrants, often called Dreamers.
The legislation would grant us residency and the chance to one day become full U.S. citizens. I can’t begin to describe what it would feel like to truly belong to the country I’ve called home for the past 23 years. I’ve been waiting in the shadows as long as I can remember. Even though I earned straight A’s in school and dreamed of being a pilot, I couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition that immigrants were then required to pay. It was excruciating watching my friends go on to college while I made ends meet working as a host and server at a local seafood restaurant.
Despite the challenges we’ve faced, Colorado’s nearly 25,000-strong DACA eligible population have shown that we belong here. We make important economic contributions to our adopted home: More than 95 percent of us are employed, according to New American Economy. Nationally, we pay $4 billion in taxes each year, and more than 43,000 Dreamers have started their own businesses, creating jobs for thousands of Americans.
That’s partly because DACA, by giving us stability and the right to work legally, has allowed us to dream bigger. When the program was created in 2012, my entire world opened up. I thought “What can I do to make a difference?” As a new father, I was also motivated to find a meaningful career. I remembered what a haven the library had been for me and applied for a job as a book shelver, then worked my way up to clerk and eventually library program associate.
I see so much of myself in the children and teens I serve here, and I want to encourage them to spread their wings and get inspired by the worlds they encounter in the books they read. I can’t imagine how good it would feel to hold an actual U.S. passport and visit all the places I’ve discovered in books. I took Chinese for four years in high school and dream about seeing the Great Wall of China. And then of course, returning home to Denver.
Many of the children who come to my library are from immigrant families, and just as I once was, they’re hungry for a sense of community. I am so grateful for the community I found here so many years ago, and want to provide a place of belonging for them, too, where their hearts will be filled and their minds enriched. I believe that in my own small way I’m making Denver a better place, and I hope Congress will give me the chance to stay.
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