I can't serve my country if Congress doesn't pass a path to citizenship

·3 min read
Antonio Valdovinos says SB 1070 got him interested in politics and community organizing.
Antonio Valdovinos says SB 1070 got him interested in politics and community organizing.

On 9/11, I was in sixth grade.

I remember watching the attack on the World Trade Center and being so angry that all I wanted to do was join the U.S. Marines so I could defend my country.

I held onto that dream until my 18th birthday, when I went to enlist. But after I was turned away, my parents finally explained why: I was born in Mexico, not the U.S.

That meant that I was undocumented – had no legal status here – and hence was not eligible to enlist. I was devastated.

I still am, in fact.

Only 1 solution remains for us 'Dreamers'

I'm a “Dreamer” – one of the millions of undocumented Americans brought here as children. I’m also among the roughly 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month and has allowed us to stay in the U.S. to study and work.

I’ve done just that, starting my own get-out-the-vote consulting firm in Arizona. My personal story even inspired a creative team to make a musical about it – ¡Americano! – one that’s gone all the way from the Arizona stage to New York City.

High praise: 'Hamilton' creator lauds play based on Valdovinos' life

I’m grateful for DACA. And now I’m scared, too, because on July 6, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in a case seeking to invalidate the DACA program.

The Appeals Court decision is almost certain to tee up a fight in the U.S. Supreme Court. This will basically pull the rug out from under all of us who’ve been trying to build our dreams here. Only one solution remains: for Congress to swiftly pass bipartisan legislation opening up a pathway to citizenship for us “Dreamers.”

Without us, labor shortages would be much worse

It’s not just about altruism, either.

America needs our hard work, our tax dollars and our spending power. In Arizona alone, there are more than 36,000 DACA-eligible residents, 95% of whom are employed. We create nearly $800 million in household income and pay $180 million in taxes, $87 million of that being state and local. We have a total spending power of $618 million.

Another view: Congress forgot 'Dreamers' like me. But you can help

Of Arizona immigrants more generally – both documented and undocumented – more than 71,000 of us are entrepreneurs generating $1.7 billion annually.

We make up 55% of landscapers and groundskeepers, 55% of farmworkers, 5% of maids and housekeepers, 39% of construction workers, 34% of janitors and 33% of software developers.

Nationally, of the 1.1 million DACA-eligible Americans, 95% percent of us are employed and nearly 47,000 of us are entrepreneurs. We pay $6.2 billion in taxes and have a total spending power of $20.2 billion.

And as the U.S. recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and faces labor shortages in key areas like farming and health care, our hands, brains and hearts are needed more than ever.

Give us a path to citizenship

That’s why it’s so important that anyone who cares about Arizona’s economic future urge our state’s lawmakers in D.C. to get behind a pathway to citizenship for us at once. And that legislation should be bipartisan, so it’s durable, and should also ensure border safety and security.

A pathway to citizenship would ensure the future workforce for both Arizona and the nation. It would mean that undocumented folks would finally have a stable, permanent foundation upon which to build careers and families.

And it would mean that we “Dreamers” could chase our dreams without fearing they’ll all be snatched away.

It would also mean I’d be able to pursue my own childhood dream of serving my country in the Marines. The day I watched the towers fall, I didn’t know I was undocumented. All I knew was that the only home I’d ever known was under attack – and I wanted to grow up to protect it.

Antonio Valdovinos is the founder of La Machine Consulting. His life story was the basis for ¡Americano!, an off-Broadway musical in New York City through June 19.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Why the DACA recipient that inspired ¡Americano! musical is scared