The Dream Act at work

By: Joseph Dargan

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Dream Act, is saving America millions of dollars and with examples like Gilberto Macedo-Velasquez, simultaneously strengthening the Latino community one Dreamer at a time.

Signed into law by former President Barack Obama in June of 2012, DACA was created to protect undocumented immigrants, who were illegally brought into the United States as children, from deportation as well as providing a path to citizenship.

According to the Center for American Progress, it would cost the United States $23,148 per person or a total of $16.2 billion to deport the 700,000 Dream Act eligible students in this country.

There may be no greater example of determination, perseverance and redemption than that of Macedo-Velazquez, a Mexican immigrant, DACA recipient and East Los Angeles Colleges student.

Displaying grace and great poise, Macedo-Velazquez, 30, describes his journey to achieve, what some native born Americans take for granted everyday; U.S.Citizenship. Abandoned with his two siblings at the age of four by his mother as a child in Mexico, Mercado-Velasquez is no stranger to fear and uncertainty.

Two years later, he would be smuggled into the United States on her behalf by paid human traffickers. Sometimes these men are referred to as “coyotes.”

“It was difficult when we first came to the United States. I couldn’t speak the language and was bullied by students and teachers alike, but my family and I were too afraid to speak out because we were undocumented”, Macedo-Velasquez said.

Unbeknownst to him and his sisters, their mom had fled Mexico to the United States to escape an abusive relationship and create a better life for her children.

Being reunited with his mom was exciting and hopeful, but the enthusiasm was short-lived. Macedo-Velazquez’s mom, having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and not having my resources, would frequently be forced to leave the children home alone.

A few years into his new life, after being discovered home alone with his two siblings by a neighbor, child services were notified and the children were removed from the home.

They were ultimately separated and put into the foster care system.

Years of mistreatment led to excessive partying, depression and an overall feeling of unworthiness.

These emotions gave way to criminal activity and massive resentment for native born Americans who Mercado-Velazquez saw as lazy and unappreciative of the opportunities given to them.

Macedo-Velazquez was ready to accept the harsh reality that he may never fulfill that sense of belonging that he had lacked his entire life, but the election of a new president, former president Barack Obama, brought renewed hope.

Rumors of a new immigration bill that would allow undocumented youths to attend school and pursue a path to citizenship had began to spread amongst members of the Latino community. This could finally be an opportunity for Mercado-Velasquez to achieve legitimate success.

The new dad, and now husband, would finally be able to support his family the right way and create a legacy he could be proud of. On June 15 2012, the Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals was signed into law.

After retaining an attorney, filling out the application and paying the $495 fee, which MacedoVelasquez saved after working multiple menial jobs for months, a bright future was finally on the horizon.

Once acceptance was granted, he was immediately allowed to apply for a driver’s license and social security card. Becoming part of this process has allowed him to procure a work permit and gain full-time employment.

He was also able to enroll in East Los Angeles College where he is currently studying criminal justice while maintaing a 3.0 GPA. Not only has Macedo-Velazquez received access to a quality education, because of his previous foster care status and a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis, he is also eligible to receive any form of assistance granted to previous ward’s of the state (individuals who have been foster care) or anyone diagnosed with a physical or mental disability.

This assistance can range from financial help with tuition, travel and books, to professional help with attorneys and counseling; all of which he is currently taking full advantage of.

Though the Dream Act has been met with strong opposition from it’s detractors, primarily republicans, it has no doubt had a profound impact on, not only the life of Macedo-Velazquez, but thousands of undocumented individuals just like him.

Human beings who spend their whole lives fearing they will be arrested, discarded and left broke and alone in a foreign land they have never seen before.

All Macedo-Velazquez ever wanted was a fair chance to proudly add to the American culture while simultaneously being proud of his own.

His immigration status had previously forced him, and so many like him, into an unregulated underworld of survival fueled by a lack of legitimate opportunity and public persecution.

Without DACA, countless Dreamers, through no fault of their own, would continue to live a nightmare.       

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