This piece originally appeared in The Providence Journal.
I used to live in fear. Fear of being separated from my family and fear of being forced away from my home, away from everything and everyone I had ever known. I am not a criminal, but my life has been criminalized. I have lived in Rhode Island for practically my entire life, having moved here from Europe when I was merely 10 months of age. My visa expired when I was a young child and, just like that, I became an undocumented immigrant.
For much of my life, documentation has been an obsession. Angst consumed me as a teen. My status constantly raised basic questions about life. I worried that I would never be allowed to drive. I worried about getting a job. These were recurring, pervasive thoughts in my 13-year-old mind.
In 2012, President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memorandum. This decision granted provisional presence to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. I felt a sense of relief. I applied for DACA and underwent a background check. My application was approved. Thanks to DACA, I was allowed to get a driver’s license.
Possessing a driver’s license means everything to me. This document allows me to work, to pursue higher education and to volunteer in my city. A license gives me a sense of being, by allowing me to fully participate in the community. Unfortunately, thousands more are not in my position. Many undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island are terrified that they will be pulled over while driving to their jobs, homes, schools or daycare. I believe that these undocumented immigrants should not live in fear. They deserve a chance to apply for a driver’s license.
Despite enormous hurdles, undocumented immigrants continue to contribute to their communities. They have paid approximately $33.4 million in yearly tax contributions in Rhode Island, including income taxes, as reported by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. With an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number provided by the Internal Revenue Service, millions of undocumented immigrants throughout the United States contribute billions to local, state and federal governments. Nationally, immigrants compose 13 percent of the population, but contribute 14.7 percent of the total economic output in the United States, as shown by the Economic Policy Institute.
Unfortunately, there has been a systematic effort to distort the contributions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, with the intent of keeping them mired in the immigration process. Lobbying groups, such as the private prison industry, have echoed many of state Rep. Robert Nardolillo III’s sentiments in his Feb. 28 Commentary piece (“No papers, no privileges”).
Courtesy of The Providence Journal