Commentary: Without the Dream Act, I could lose everything

Xochitl Juarez

I came to this country with my parents when I was 3 years old, and as I grew up in Salt Lake City, I assumed I was just like everyone else. But when I applied for college scholarships during my last year at Judge Memorial Catholic High School, I was asked to provide a Social Security number. My mom explained to me that I did not have one because I was undocumented.

I was accepted at the University of Utah, but I kept telling my boyfriend, “What’s the point of getting an education if I’m never going to be able to work?” I got depressed, and I left school. A few years later, I got pregnant with my first child. By the time he was born, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was created, providing a way for people like me to work and live legally.

The day I brought my son, Yarey, home from the hospital, I lay down on the bed beside him. I grabbed his little finger and said, “I’m going to do something for you. When you grow up, you’re going to be proud of your mommy.” That promise has pushed me to everything I’ve accomplished. I was granted DACA, got my first job — at an agency that helps foster children who have been abused and have disabilities — had another child with my partner, and got promotions at work.

But now I’m terrified about the future. President Trump’s termination of the DACA program could blow apart my life. My DACA expires this August. If the Dream Act isn’t passed by then, I will lose my right to work. I could even be deported and lose my children and everything that means anything to me. I try not to let it get to me, but I think about it constantly.

Every day I say my prayer on my way to work: “God, please help all of us who are scared about the future.” In Utah, DACA has allowed more than 9,700 young people like me to come forward, pass background checks, and live and work legally. We need our lawmakers to find a solution so we can keep contributing to this place we love.

DACA transformed my life. Over the past few years, I have been working with foster children who have been sexually or physically abused or neglected by their biological families and who have autism and or some other developmental disability.

Children with autism act out their emotions, often physically. In my work, kids will hit you, they will kick you, they will spit on you, they will pull your hair. I was shocked. In those early days, I remember saying, “Oh no, I did not sign up for this!”

But one day I went to pick up a child who had often physically lashed out. I watched him try to say good-bye to his foster mother, who was sitting in her car. He wanted to give her a kiss, but she just rolled up her window and looked away — and that broke my heart. I fell in love with this kid at that moment and thought, I’m going to be friends with this kid, I’m going to love him, and I will see him succeed. We became close, he got a new foster family, and he is thriving. I cannot imagine any job more fulfilling than what I do.

Sometimes I think it’s kind of ironic that people think of me as a criminal because of my status, when here I am working with American families who have abused their American children and committed so many crimes against them.

After four promotions, I’m now a coordinator who manages 10 cases. I take children to court hearings and doctor and dentist visits, track all their paperwork, attend meetings related to their care, and serve as a kind of mom to them.

I love the world I’ve built. I play on a women’s soccer team, the Pink Panthers. I spend time with friends I’ve known since we were little kids. I meet with colleagues so we can support each other. I love and help 10 children in addition to my own. And I give my own two children, now four years old and five months old, all my love and optimism and hope that they can make this world better.

I would like to tell Rep. Chris Stewart that this is the only home I know. I’m giving back everything I can. Please fight for people like me to continue our lives here, and sponsor the Dream Act.

Xochitl Juarez, Salt Lake City, is an immigrant with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. She works at CTA Community Supports as a coordinator for children with autism and other disabilities.