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Johnson City is home for undocumented youth

By Randy Huerta • Dec 20, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I am a proud Tennessean. Growing up in Johnson City, I fell in love with our mountains and lakes. I loved my community and my neighbors and felt like I was here to stay. But now my future here is uncertain.

My family moved here here when I was a year old. I’m 22 now. In high school, I dreamt of going to East Tennessee State University with my friends and becoming an engineer for our community. When my friends started to talk about driver licenses and college applications, I realized that my future would look very different than that of my peers.

I’m undocumented. Although I have lived here since I was an infant, I wasn’t able to get a driver license or get a job after school. And I had no way of applying for citizenship, even though Tennessee is the only home I’ve ever known. When I learned what being undocumented meant for my future, I became so discouraged.

Thankfully my future improved when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program started in 2012. It allowed undocumented students like me, who came to the United States when we were children, to register with the federal government and receive temporary protection from deportation and the opportunity to work, allowing us to give back to the communities we love and call home.

I vividly remember the day DACA was announced. I was given hope to imagine my future here in Johnson City.

It’s been five years since DACA was announced and changed my life. I recently enrolled in Milligan College’s new mechanical engineering program and I am about to receive my associate’s degree at Northeast State Community College. I still hope to become an engineer and build and invest in my community.

Three months ago, President Trump terminated the DACA program, and my future is once again uncertain. I have 265 days until my work permit expires and will again be at risk of deportation.

I’m one of more than 8,300 Tennesseans who have DACA. Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District is home to 400 DACA recipients. The termination of DACA put an expiration date on our futures here.

In engineering, we learn that the best solution to a problem is often a simple one. The solution to the ending of DACA is simple, too. Congress can pass legislation allowing youth like me who’ve grown up in this country to earn a pathway to citizenship. Bipartisan legislation like this has already been introduced in Congress and it is supported by more than 85 percent of Americans.

If Congress doesn’t take action and pass the Dream Act, we’ll lose our work permits and jobs, and be at risk of being deported from the only home we know. Since DACA was terminated in September, already 12,000 DACA recipients like me have lost their status.

Passing the Dream Act would allow me to remain in my community here in Johnson City, continue to invest in and finish my education, and eventually give back to my community as an engineer.

Tennessee is a part of me. I love the people, I love the nature, and I love the life I’ve been able to build here. I hope that U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe will vote to pass the Dream Act this year so I can continue to call Johnson City home.

 Randy Huerta grew up in Johnson City and is currently studying engineering at Milligan College in Elizabethton. He is a member of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

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