When Hurricane Harvey hit southeast Texas in the last week of August, countless people worked around the clock to rescue humans and animals as well as provide aid to those displaced by the flooding. One of those people was paramedic Jesus Contreras, who worked for six days straight as he rescued people from the devastation and ferried them by boat or ambulance to local hospitals if they needed medical attention. The work was grueling, but Contreras never once considered stopping because he knew there were people whose life depended on him.
Contreras camped out at a local fire station in Houston when he wasn’t out helping victims, and didn’t return home for at least a week. It was at this point that President Donald Trump made the announcement that he would be phasing out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and urged Congress to “fix” the program in the next six months. Contreras is a recipient of the DACA program and said that this news hit him hard.
“We just got hit by a hurricane here — and now we’re getting hit by another storm, an even bigger one,” Contreras, 23, told NBC News.
“I worked for six days helping with disaster relief,” said Contreras. “And if DACA had been removed in the middle of that, I would’ve been taken off the ambulance. You’re out there giving your heart out — and then you find out this might happen.”
DACA is a 5-year-old program from the Obama Administration that allows children under 16 brought to the United States illegally to apply for deferred action of their deportation and allows them to obtain work permits for just two years before having to reapply again. Nearly 800,000 people are currently recipients of the program, and its removal threatens to end everyone’s work permits and allow their deportation. Contreras is just one of 124,000 people in Texas alone that benefits from the program and he has decided to speak out about his fears and outrage.
“There are countless people with DACA that are out here volunteering, coordinating with shelters and relief. I have this opportunity to share my story but I’m far from the only one and there are millions of people just like me doing even bigger things,” he said.
The New York Times did a spotlight on several families doubly affected by the storm, which completely wiped out the homes they recently bought, and the decision to end DACA. Among these people is 24-year-old Avelino Justo, who currently works a $ 25-an-hour welding job and was recently able to purchase a small yellow home with his 26-year-old wife, Ruby Solis, and their two daughters. Justo was able to secure his job thanks to DACA, but his work permit expires in May and now their house has been destroyed.
“This was our dream, you know,” said Solis. “Both mine and his dream has always been: A small home, a cheap home that we could pay off quick, both of us put in a lot of overtime. We never expected this to happen. This storm just brought us right back down.”
As many have pointed out, the majority of DACA recipients are employed (about 93%), many go to school, some serve in the military, and they all contribute to the U.S. either through taxes or through the nearly $ 500 cost to apply for the program. Officials have estimated that ending the program and deporting recipients would cost the U.S. economy about $ 400 billion.
As with those in the military, others have given their lives for U.S. citizens. One volunteer that helped rescue Hurricane Harvey victims, Alonso Guillen, lost his life while on a boat with friends attempting to pull people from their homes and the water. Guillen, a 31-year-old recipient of DACA, headed south with friends and a borrowed boat to help victims against his own parent’s wishes. When the boat capsized as they hit a bridge, Guillen and his friend Tomas Carreon Jr. lost their lives as they were pulled int0 the strong flood waters.
“When we are with God, there are no borders,” said Rita Ruiz de Guillen, his mother, who lives in Piedras Negras, Mexico and is seeking legal status to live in the U.S. “Man made borders on this earth.”