DACA stands for opportunity and service

Right now, hundreds of thousands of residents are on the edge of losing their jobs. They are our neighbors and our friends. They pay taxes and invest their time and energy into making their communities better places to live.

These neighbors are not in danger of being fired because of poor job performance. They are not worried about being laid off because their employers are downsizing. They are on the edge of being fired by Donald Trump as he considers destroying the DACA program.

DACA is an acronym for Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals and it allows the children of undocumented immigrants to attend school and work in the United States while Congress gets its act together to reform our dysfunctional immigration system. But DACA stands for much more than that for these hardworking immigrants, many of whom grew up and went to school here. The United States is the only country they have ever really known.

It is very likely that you have encountered someone in the DACA program and did not realize it. They probably spoke perfect English and shared similar interests with you, perhaps in music, sports, or other activities. For several, they did not even know they were undocumented until they applied for a job or enrolled in college.

As a graduate student at Brown University, one of my classmates was a DACA student. Mateus was brought to the United States from South America at a very young age and grew up in New Jersey. That was his home and being the good Jersey boy that he was, he went to Rutgers University. It was only in 2013 that NJ allowed in-state tuition for undocumented students, by that time Mateus had already transferred to Brown University

Fortunately, Mateus had a mentor looking out for him. He transferred to Brown University and later applied to and was accepted by DACA. That is where we met, in the Urban Education Policy program. He was a brilliant student and a dedicated friend to others in the program. Mateus often spoke of going home to Newark, where he grew up, because that was where he wanted to make a difference.

Mateus graduated, served as a Congressional Hispanic Scholarship Graduate Fellow, and spoke on panels with then-Education Secretary John King. Mateus then returned home to serve on Newark’s LGBTQ Commission and works for an education foundation where he approves grants to invest money so other Newark kids like him can have more opportunities to succeed. His enthusiasm for America and his hometown helped strengthen my own appreciation for our freedom and my Southern California roots.

That is just one example of the more than 800,000 immigrants covered by DACA who are working hard, paying taxes, and making their communities better because they had the opportunity to get an education and work. Yet Trump is considering abolishing DACA so those 800,000 individuals would be out of work and at-risk for deportation. Not only would that be devastating for these residents and the communities they serve, it would tear families apart and be an economic debacle for employers, reducing national economic growth by $460 billion over the next ten years.

For DREAMers, DACA stands for opportunity. The opportunity to be a productive member of one’s community. The opportunity to serve others and improve lives. That is exactly what Mateus is doing. We must all stand up to ensure those opportunities to produce and serve. Tell Congress and Trump to protect DACA and pass real immigration reform.


Gil Cisneros is a candidate for Congressional District 39, which includes Fullerton, La Habra, La Habra Heights, Brea, Buena Park, Anaheim Hills, Placentia, Yorba Linda, Diamond Bar, Chino Hills, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month With Some Thoughts on Higher Education

Today, nearly one quarter of the students in America’s public schools are Hispanic. By 2030, Hispanics will make up nearly 30% of all Americans in the work force. At the same time, less than 15% of college graduates are Hispanic. Moreover, by 2018, 63% of job openings will require a bachelor’s degree. This points to a sobering realization: Unless we are able to ensure that more Hispanics can get to and through college with a bachelor’s degree or higher, many in our community will be left behind and relegated to low skill employment with little opportunity for advancement or income growth.

Let’s look at this in another way. If 55 million Americans are Hispanic, are we seeing ‘ourselves’ represented in positions of leadership in the community, in healthcare, in education, the arts and in government? And similarly, what sorts of role models are we offering the next generation of Hispanic youth? We must count on this present generation of high school students to disrupt the notion that college is only for the select few and aspire to become a generation of leaders. The impact of the present generation’s success will lay the groundwork for future generations to follow suit.

Over the past few months, via our Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera program, we have had the pleasure of reconnecting with some of ‘our’ students who have made their way to college, and in some cases, just graduated. Our first cohort of Cisneros Hispanic Scholarship Foundation recipients includes John Barrios, a young man who just graduated from Yale and is currently a development analyst for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He also has his sights set on a master’s degree. We are so deeply proud of his accomplishments to date and can already see the impact of his success on Pico Rivera. John came back to Pico Rivera in June to address the graduating ‘G1Ders’, as we call them, and to share his experiences. The students in attendance left with a clear impression of what to expect in college (hard work) and with tips on how to make the most of the experience (connect with other first generation college students, seek out mentors, make friends, reach out, stay in touch) and, perhaps more importantly, they were able to look a highly successful college graduate in the eye and say: He is just like me.

Jacki and I are committed to doing our part to ensure we have an entire generation of Hispanic college graduates by continuing to support our initiatives in Pico Rivera. We will celebrate with each high school graduate who receives her first acceptance letter to her college of choice and ensure that every student in Pico Rivera, from Kindergarten on up, sees themselves as college graduates and future leaders.