When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative was created in 2012, giving undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children a reprieve from deportation and allowing us to legally work, attend school or join the military for the first time, nearly 800,000 young Dreamers -myself included - were finally given a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.
But since Sept. 5, 2017, when the current administration announced that the program was being rescinded, that feeling of hope has been harder to muster up. With the end of the program, set for March 5, 2018, drawing near, not only are our lives in jeopardy. The future of the families, businesses, employees and communities that count on us and benefit from our contributions are also on the line.
Dreamers are called Dreamers for a reason. To qualify for the program, one must have completed and/or be attending school or served in our military, passed rigorous background checks, and met a number of other strict eligibility criteria. So, clearly, we're a group of people who are striving to do more.
I came to the United States from Mexico when I was two. Since graduating third in my high school class in 2013, I've been working two full-time jobs to put myself through school at Armstrong State University, where I'm currently a senior majoring in business economics. Research from New American Economy found that immigrants are more than two times as likely to start a new business than American-born citizens, and I aspire to count myself among the 38,000 DACA recipients who are self-employed by starting my own company one day. And that's good news for the economy, given that DACA-eligible entrepreneurs contributed a total business income of nearly $659 million in 2015, providing a significant boost to our nation's economy.
Across the country, other Dreamers are also taking their place in our society. Those who aren't starting their own companies are involved in nearly every industry, from STEM to healthcare, all of which are facing worker shortages and need immigrants to help fill jobs where there aren't enough Americans to do so. In Georgia, nearly 92 percent of the Dreamer population is employed. And these jobs enabled us to pay nearly $76 million in state and federal taxes, and hold more than $455 million in spending power. Nationally, DACA recipients earn nearly $20 billion in annual income, and contribute roughly $3 billion in taxes each year.
Like many Dreamers, I also want to make it a habit of donating my time and services to my community wherever I can. In fact, lots of DACA recipients I know spend time engaging their communities by volunteering. We do this because we love our home - America - and we want to see it prosper. Most of us don't even remember what our birth countries are like; the U.S. is the only country we know to call home.
Every Dreamer that I have had the pleasure of meeting is hardworking and responsible. And we aren't just responsible for ourselves; we are responsible to our families, our employers and employees, our faith groups, and our neighbors. We are people who are trying to make progress in our lives, get an education, and assimilate. But we need your help. That is why I'm asking you to join me and thousands of others in the iMarch for Immigration campaign. We're asking Congress to find a solution to this issue. Together, we're working toward a better country - one that rewards the values of hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.
Emmanuel Diaz, a native of Mexico, is a DACA recipient and senior at Armstrong State University in Savannah.