Kimberly Schwartz has always been a planner.
Her dresser drawers are filled with notebooks sketching out every detail of her life’s dreams. And then there are the notebooks with counterplans in case those plans don’t pan out. And the notebooks with plans to back up those backup plans.
It’s this kind of meticulous preparation, hard work and “hope for the best, plan for the worst,” attitude that she’s tried to live by. It was this approach that made her valedictorian of her high school graduating class, that led her to the University of California, Berkeley, and that ultimately landed her the dream job at Apple that she’s supposed to start in January.
Now, facing the end of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—the program that gave temporary protection to undocumented migrants who arrived in the US as children to live, study and work—her dreams are suddenly on hold. And for the first time in her life, she doesn’t have a plan.
“I still don’t understand, I did the best I could do,” she said. “I did what every American child is supposed to do. I’ve worked hard every single day of my life to be a part of the only country I’ve ever known. To know that it might not be enough rips at my heart every day.”
The 22-year-old Schwartz is one of nearly 800,000 young immigrants who face deportation if DACA is completely rescinded and Congress fails to act. The potential scrapping of the program threatens to derail the careers and livelihoods of teachers, tech workers, more than 900 young men and women serving in the U.S. military, and many others who have always called the U.S. home. If action is not taken by Congress soon, beginning in March, an average of 1,000 individuals every day for the next two years would lose their ability to legally work in our country, and they will be subject to deportation to a country they have never known.
“Let that sink in: One thousand people a day, every day, for two years, ripped from our workplaces and eventually our communities,” Neil Bradley, U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief policy officer, said at an event with DREAMers at the Chamber on Wednesday. “That is going to hurt our communities and our economy.”
Those protected under DACA, commonly referred to as “DREAMers,” all arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16. In order to qualify, these young people must have been students or had completed school or military service. For her part, Schwartz was three-years old when her family left Sinaloa, Mexico in 1998, fleeing crime, poverty and corruption for Northern California. Her father, a doctor in Mexico, became a construction worker so his family would have a chance at a better life.
‘I didn’t tell anyone’
Seeing how hard her parents worked to give her and her sibling a better life in fifth grade she decided that if she got perfect grades, it would be the key to success in America. And she did, throwing herself into her school work and her community. A straight-A student, she was an All-American girl, playing volleyball, running track, volunteering at local charities, class president, and a student representative to the local school board.
No one suspected she was undocumented. And yet it gnawed at her.
“I didn’t tell anyone, not even my best friend,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to look at me as less than them. I just wanted to work hard and be happy like everyone else.”
Education, in her mind, was the ticket to full acceptance in the U.S. And at night, she would stay up on the internet, often until the early hours or the morning, poring over scholarships that did not require U.S. citizenship.
It wasn’t until her senior year in high school, when she was granted DACA status that she felt that maybe all her work wasn’t for nothing.
“I felt a sense of belonging,” she said. “I could work. I could get a driver’s license. I almost felt like a normal person. It was like all my hard work was finally paying off.”
Under the DACA protection, she did what she did best: made plans. She’d always wanted to study abroad in Spain. Maybe it was possible now. She aggressively kept up her grades, earned several high profile internships that eventually led her to Apple’s door, where she signed a full-time job offer to work on the business side of their media product division. She was on the verge of being accepted. That was until the program was scrapped.
'I didn’t want to hear them cry'
On the September morning when the DACA rescission was announced, Schwartz set her alarm to get up early and listen to the news. She cried, but then got herself together and went to class, like always, doing anything to not think about the impending hole in her future.
“I didn’t want to call my parents,” she said. “I didn’t want to hear them cry.”
New applications under DACA are no longer being accepted and many current recipients have begun to lose their status. Unless Congress passes legislation providing relief to these individuals, all Dreamers will lose their status by March 2020.
“To withdraw the right of these individuals to go to school and work and to deport them to countries they do not know is contrary to fundamental American principles and the best interests of our country,” the U.S. Chamber’s Bradley added.
For Schwartz’s part, she’s hoping for the best, but unsure how to plan for the worst. And the uncertainty and the helplessness is devastating.
“How do I let the people who want me deported know that we DREAMers just want to live lives and feed our family and contribute to the country we call home and be happy,” she says. “Just like them.”
Confused and uncertain about her future, with DACA hanging in the balance, Schwartz can’t help but asking herself sometimes, “Was it even worth it?”
“It’s my senior year, I’ve worked hard to get here,” she says. “And I don’t even know if I have anything to look forward to.”
The helplessness can be paralyzing. If Congress doesn’t act, and act soon, the American dream—the only dream Schwartz and 800,000 young people have ever had—may evaporate
About the authors
Cordell was a senior editor and content strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's strategic communications team. He previously covered corporate finance, economics, foreign exchange and fixed income markets for Bloomberg News in New York during the heart of the financial crisis. Before that, he was a crime and politics reporter (as well as covering many, many country fairs) at the Indianapolis Star.