By Seth Daniel
Everett’s Edith Rodriguez has been cranking out quality pizza pies at her Somerville shop for the past two years with her husband, founding the small business after going to college and saving her money while working at a nursing home.
Last year, sales at the store topped $500,000 a year, and the couple was looking to start a family, they just bought a car and were in discussions with the bank to buy their first home in Everett.
Then last Tuesday came when President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a six-month hiatus to allow Congress to act, and Rodriguez – who is a recipient of the (DACA) program – had to liquidate her life and begin thinking about the reality of being deported back to El Salvador, a country she has never known and that she left when she was 15.
Last Friday, Rodriguez, 29, came together with other DACA recipients, members of the community and City leaders for a vigil sponsored by the Everett Safe and Welcoming Coalition at Wehrner Park. It was a tremendous outpouring by all accounts, but the realities for Rodriguez – a successful small business owner – are hard to avoid, she said.
“After the announcement came, we decided to step back from getting a home and I called the loan officer at the bank to say we weren’t going to continue,” she said. “It wasn’t a good place to be because I could no longer mark exactly what my status would be and my application would have probably been denied. With our business, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six months, so we need cash in our pocket and we put the business up for sale this week. We believe we’ll be able to sell it and have the money available. If we have to go back, money is going to be very important in El Salvador. So, we’re getting ready for that.”
One of the thing for so many DACA members is the uncertainty that now faces them after having built a life in America – in places like Everett. DACA recipients were able to begin applying for the program in 2012, and those that qualified had to have been brought to America before they were 16. The DACA status allowed them access to college loans and allowed them a work permit so they could work legally.
Now there are approximately 800,000 DACA recipients in the United States, and La Comunidad Director Antonio Amaya said Everett has hundreds that would be affected.
At his organization alone, there are more than 150 residents who come to La Comunidad for needs related to DACA. Those folks are now, he said, wondering what could happen to them.
“People like Edith are small business owners and contributors,” he said. “These are the people and individuals that make Everett better in the way that they contribute so much to the community – whether it’s the local economy, the culture, the religious community and the small business community.”
The vigil at Wehrner Park on Friday night was a successful attempt to showcase residents like Rodriguez who will be affected, and also it was a way for the overall community to show support and solidarity.
“After the announcement on Sept. 5, there was a lot of anxiety and reactions and people didn’t know what to do,” Amaya said. “So we decided to do this in Everett because we don’t have these kinds of events in Everett regarding specific things like immigration. You really got to feel the support from the elected officials, the schools and the community.”
Add La Comunidad organizer Iliana Panameno, “First and foremost, the vigil was about showing support for our immigrant community…Everett is one of the most diverse communities in the state. We need to be there for our residents in the good times and bad times. It’s something that could go unnoticed here if we didn’t make it an issue. So, it was a healing space and a place to tell our stories. It’s a decision made in Washington, D.C., but it’s affecting Everett and it’s not something that’s far from here.”
At the vigil, City leaders like Mayor Carlo DeMaria spoke out in favor of defending DACA, and the mayor had posted the following statement earlier in support as well.
“DACA required people to be enrolled in school, or have already completed school,” he wrote. “It did not provide amnesty or a path to citizenship. They cannot vote. They cannot receive any federal benefits, like Social Security payments, food stamps, or college financial aid. Beyond consequences for the young people themselves, there are real consequences for our economy if this program is not acted upon by Congress quickly as part of immigration reform. As a group, they contribute about $1.2 billion annually in tax revenue, and a study by the Center for American Progress found that the loss of DACA workers would reduce the country’s GDP by a staggering $433 billion over the next decade. For all of these reasons, I call upon Congress to act swiftly to craft bipartisan, sensible legislation that will allow the benefits of the DACA program to continue.”
State Sen. Sal DiDomenico also called for support of DACA.
“This policy change betrays our American values and unfairly punishes 800,000 young people who have long called the United State of America home,” he said. “I sincerely hope that Congress takes urgent action to find a permanent and compassionate solution that maintains protections for DACA recipients, including the nearly 8,000 Dreamers who reside in Massachusetts. These are young men and women who attend our schools, contribute to our local economy, serve our communities, and provide immeasurable contributions to the fabric our society.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he will support those at the vigil and the organizations locally that are fighting for the program.
“I fully support DACA and unfortunately was unable to attend the rally in Everett this past Friday evening due to a previous commitment,” he said. “However, I think it’s not only unpresidential, but also un-American for President Trump to try and dismantle DACA. It is absolutely not the fault of young children that have been brought here. I fully support calling on Congress to do all they can immediately to stop president Trump’s agenda on this matter.”
For Rodriguez, the outpouring of support by the Everett community before and afterward gives her hope. She said there are so many misconceptions that DACA recipients are on welfare and don’t pay taxes, but it is simply not the case for anyone she knows in her same situation.
“I paid $24,000 in state and federal taxes over the last two years,” she said. “There are a lot of things with DACA people don’t know. You don’t get benefits, but you contribute as a taxpayer. I haven’t ever got anything from the government – not a penny since I’ve been here for the past 14 years. On Friday, I honestly wasn’t expecting that kind of support. When you see that, it gives you hope and strength. It gives you hope that something good will happen in Congress.”
Amaya said one practical matter about the DACA ending is that anyone who has DACA that expires before March 5, 2018 can re-apply for another two years of protection. Anyone in that situation needs to re-apply for DACA before Oct. 5, 2017, and Amaya said time is of the essence.