ROCKDALE, TX — There are over 100,000 DACA recipients that live in the Lone Star State. Some, like Benito Costilla, are DREAMers too.
The term DREAMers comes from the 2001 Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or the DREAM, Act. The ultimate goal was to provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented youth who came to this country as children. The act has received bipartisan support, but never enough to pass through congress successfully.
After another failed attempt to pass the DREAM Act in 2012, the Obama Administration introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA. It gives a temporary permit to defer deportation for “eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety.”
Fast forward to 2021. In an attempt to reform the country's immigration system, the Biden administration plans to send a bill to Congress that includes a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers like Costilla, giving them the chance to obtain their citizenship in just three years.
"I would love to see people that have lived here for a very long time in that work, and they don’t have any kind of criminal backgrounds to be able to be a part of this country,” Costilla said.
His story mirrors about 800,000 others across the country. At 5-years-old, Benito and his family came to the U.S. from Mexico. Since then, he became the first person in his family to graduate from high school. He now has two degrees, both in the biotechnology field.
It wasn’t an easy road with the thought of his status and protections constantly being debated.
“I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to finish my degree without losing my protection, because you have to renew every two years. Also, it was constantly like "Okay, my two years is almost up. Will I be able to renew? I don’t know,"” said Costilla.
Now, Costilla advocates for DREAMers and DACA recipients like himself, taking his message straight to elected officials.
But with everything, there is an opposing view point.
“People who are concerned about immigration are in support of things like building border walls, are often concerned about crime, are often concerned about public safety,” said Roslyn Schoen, Professor of Sociology at A&M Central Texas.
The professor says when the topic of conversation is immigration, it's easily seen as a political issue. Based on her research and findings, Schoen explains that there are economic and sociocultural benefits to extending protections and rights to DREAMers.
“When we talk about DREAMers, we're talking about young people who grew up here. They have been in our classrooms since they were children. Many of them have been at our universities. A lot of them are young adults already in our labor force, and they cannot have a criminal record. These are young people who can fill positions where we need workers. Many of them go into STEM careers. Giving them rights and protections is a win-win for them, but also for society," Schoen said.
With every new administration, Costilla says he gets renewed hope. Although there hasn't been successful immigration reform, he says he will continue to make sure his voice is heard by reaching out to senators like John Cornyn.
“To me, every time there is a new administration, there’s always an opportunity to do something new, and that makes me hopeful. We have to be for systems that work, and the only way we can do that is by studying the issues and coming up with solutions and working together," said Costilla.
In an outline of the Biden administration's immigration plan, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who's expected to introduce the bill to the Senate, said at least nine Republican Senators will have to support the bill in order for it to be enacted.