Dulce Garcia is an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 4. As a Dreamer, the name bestowed on people like Garcia, she was unable to apply for student loans, so she worked odd jobs selling flowers, waiting tables, and parking cars throughout high school, college, and eventually law school to pay off her debts. In 2016, Garcia fulfilled her life-long ambition of practicing immigration law when she opened her own firm in Chula Vista, California, where she has since hired six employees and two interns.
However, in the past six months, the uncertainty of whether she'd be allowed to remain in the U.S. has taken its toll. The Trump administration has vowed to dismantle Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that offers short-term protections for undocumented immigrants like Garcia. As a result, the entrepreneur has laid off half of her workforce. She also plans to close an additional office location in the southern part of the city, where she serves the primarily Spanish-speaking population. Garcia adds that her license to practice the law is in jeopardy as well. "I have worked so hard to get to this place, and now I don't know what will become of me," she says.
Monday marks the date that President Trump had planned to end the DACA program full-stop. His order was blocked by a federal judge--which the Supreme Court declined to reconsider last week, effectively keeping the program running. However, hundreds of thousands of Dreamers remain in limbo, as Congress attempts to negotiate a longer-term fix that may offer them a path to citizenship.
Along with Garcia, dozens of Dreamers have started their own companies since coming to the U.S., and the uncertainty surrounding the DACA program has them girding for losses and, in the worst-case scenario, deportation.
For many of these immigrant founders, returning to their country of birth is not feasible, and perhaps even dangerous. Garcia, who has long been out of touch with her family in Mexico, notes that DACA recipients can travel abroad only in very limited circumstances-- for instance, if they are able to obtain an advance parole document from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The entrepreneur has not returned home since she left originally--not even for her grandmother's funeral last year. "I still don't know where she is buried, and it breaks my heart," she adds. And given that she obtained her license to practice law in California exclusively, it would be difficult for Garcia pick up and move her business to Mexico.
Diego Corzo, the founder of the real estate firm Nino Group in Austin, Texas, is in a similar situation. His company, which sells around 80 homes each year and solicits business for related services such as appraisers and home stagers, grossed around $200,000 in sales last year. Corzo immigrated to the U.S. from Peru as a small child, and points out that his skills are not transferable to the business climate in Lima. In the meantime, "I have people [Americans] who rely on me to get paid every month," Corzo says. Should his documents expire--which would cause him to lose his driver's license--Corzo says he would plan to hire someone to drive him around to rental properties, until and unless he is forced to flee the country.
A question of losses.
What often gets lost in the conversation surrounding DACA, analysts suggest, is the sheer productivity of these roughly 800,000 workers. Rescinding the program could mean the loss of as much as $460 billion in economic output over the next decade, according to a recently released report from the House Committee on Small Business, which was released by ranking member Nydia Velázquez (D.-N.Y.)
The report also points out that Dreamers start businesses at more than twice the rate of the general population, in large part because they are used to making ends meet without help from the government. "We are not only part of the workforce--we are also part of the entrepreneurial community," says Ivan Guzman, a Mexican immigrant and Dreamer who co-founded a restaurant, La Avenida, in the East Harlem section of Manhattan in 2016. His business, which employs eight people, generates around $240,000 in annual revenue selling authentic Mexican fare.
Meanwhile, Dreamers contribute some $2 billion in local and state taxes annually--including to programs (e.g., Social Security) from which they are not eligible to receive any benefits.
Garcia, for her part, has paid a generous sum to the U.S. government: "If you told me five years ago that I would be paying $10,000 a year in employer taxes, I would think you were crazy," she says.
Then of course, there are the Dreamers who never officially signed up for DACA. Those who have not yet applied for the program are not currently eligible and remain unprotected--also making them basically untouchable to U.S. employers. La Avenida currently employs two undocumented immigrants--a dishwasher and a busboy--who failed to apply for DACA in time, and are therefore in danger of being deported. "There is a lot of uncertainty for the Dreamer population, and no one really knows what is going to happen," adds Guzman.