Thursday, February 22, 2018

O'Connor: Don't end my roommate's dream

Feb. 9, 2018 at 10:50 p.m.

In this tense political climate, I often think of Matthew 25:35, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." As a society, we must learn to welcome, embrace and assist those who do not look like us, speak like us, believe like us.

Allow me to tell you about my best friend and college roommate. He has a stellar GPA that scratches at a 4.0, he contributes to his community, he donates his time mentoring low-income students through the college application process, and has dreams of going to law school to further benefit underserved communities. His name is Juan Martinez Guevara, and he is an undocumented student.

Juan was brought to the United States when he was just under 2 years old, as his family sought a better life than the cards dealt to them in Mexico — poverty and violence had made life unsustainable. Raised in Dallas, Juan excelled in the classroom, learning American history, mathematics and science, and all other aspects of what it means to be "American." Compassionate, amicable and daring, he refuses to let any obstacles define his path. Juan currently is studying international politics at Georgetown University, wishing to give back to the United States by joining the U.S. Foreign Service, a career where he can utilize his mastery of three languages. Yet, all of that is in jeopardy.

Juan is a DACA registrant. DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was started in 2012 to allow undocumented minors like Juan protection from deportation. To qualify, you must have a clean record and be currently attending or graduated from high school or be serving in or honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces. Juan has only known the United States — this is his home and the place where he belongs. However, DACA is scheduled to end in just a few weeks, on March 5. Without action by Congress and the president, Juan's future and those of 800,000 other undocumented minors like him are in peril.

Being undocumented, Juan pays taxes without any government benefits — he doesn't receive federal financial aid. It is estimated that Dreamers like Juan contribute more than $40 billion to the U.S. economy annually, bringing innovation and expertise. But more than economics, Dreamers are our friends and classmates, they are our church members and our colleagues, they are our coworkers and friendly faces. They are what helps build America.

Juan is American in every sense except his immigration status. He deserves a chance to stay and live in the only country he has known. But Congress must act soon to protect Juan and the more than 124,000 Dreamers who live in Texas. They are model community members, giving back tremendously without asking for much in return. In fact, more than 76 percent of Americans agree these young people should have a right to stay in this country and have a path toward citizenship. But political gamesmanship could keep the work that needs to be done from happening.

Will you welcome the stranger? Let's not forget that a majority of Texans were at one point immigrants themselves. I strongly urge Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and the entire Texas House delegation to work together to make sure the DREAM Act is made into law as soon as possible. Time is running out. Juan's future and what he means to his community is on the line.

— Trevor M. O'Connor, a Longview High School graduate, is a sophomore at Georgetown University, where his major course of study is government.



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