HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients around the country celebrated a decade since President Obama's administration first introduced the program, protecting them from being deported.
However, they are urging Congress to act on immigration reform, citing that to this day, there is still no clear pathway to citizenship for the undocumented community.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are approximately 835,000 DACA recipients, or "Dreamers," across the country. The Obama-era program allows individuals like Sharon Ibarra-Aguillon to work in the United States.
She came to this country when she was just 14 years old. Since becoming a DACA recipient, she has graduated from Prairie View A&M University with honors and became a nurse at the Texas Medical Center, working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was a dream come true," Ibarra-Aguillon said. "I have never looked back. I will do everything in my hands to save my patient's life and I love my profession. I think I was born for it."
During that time, many Dreamers have become contributing members of society and significant players in Houston's growing economy. They can be found in all professions - medicine, law, education, and more.
"Look at what we have done with the slight opportunities that we have been given. Imagine what we could do with full citizenship," said Wendy Ramos, a DACA recipient.
According to numbers shared by the city and county at a press conference with FIEL Houston Wednesday afternoon, there are approximately 32,000 Dreamers who live in the Greater Houston area.
They contribute about $1.1 billion to our local economy each year and pay roughly $782.7 million in federal taxes and $436.8 million in state and local taxes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 202,000 Dreamers worked on the frontlines in essential-worker roles. Mayor Sylvester Turner says losing this population would tremendously impact our community.
"If you take all of those 32,000 out of our economy, all of us suffer," Turner said. "We faced seven federally-declared disasters. Dreamers were part of helping the city recover in every one of them. They are part of the resilience and sustainability of our city."
Although Wednesday celebrated the DACA program's milestone anniversary, the undocumented community says its future will remain uncertain until there's a clear pathway to citizenship. Aura Espinosa didn't think that there still wouldn't be a way for her to become a U.S. citizen 10 years later.
"Emotionally, that's devastating in the sense that again, we're back in the shadows like we were a few years ago," Espinosa said.
For the past decade, DACA has faced many legislative challenges. In June 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rescinded the expansion of DACA, and the Trump administration announced a plan in September 2017 to phase out the program. In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the reasoning for rescinding DACA was "arbitrary and capricious" but did not issue a decision on the merits of the program itself.
SEE MORE: Texas judge's ruling against DACA program leaves clouded future for Dreamers
In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order to reinstate DACA. But later in July, a judge barred the government from accepting new applications to the program.
"It's been a rollercoaster. I feel like they're playing with our lives, telling us that 'You're secure. You're not secure. Keep fighting. We give you back what you originally have,' and then they cut back," Espinosa said.
Mayor Turner, State Representative Gene Wu, Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, and Jose Rivera from Commissioner Rodney Ellis' office joined FIEL Houston and Dreamers Wednesday, urging Congress to create a permanent solution for the country's immigrant community.
"A decade anniversary means our country has been unable, unwilling, and just incomprehensibly unable to fix a simple problem, whether that's because of politics or partisanship. We are a country that put the first man on the moon. We developed the internet. We've done so many amazing things, but we can't take care of our own people. Dreamers are our own people," said Rep. Wu.
Ibarra-Aguillon and Espinosa say there are still harmful myths and misconceptions about the undocumented community. They hope that sharing their story can bring them one step closer to fortifying DACA.
"I want to tell those people who think that we are a threat to this country ... No, we are not. We are essential. We save lives," she said.
"People don't normally question us when we're out and about because most of us speak perfect English. They don't realize that the person who's serving them, watching their kids, or cleaning your teeth at the dentist's office may be a DACA recipient," said Espinosa.
Dreamers are now waiting for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to consider Texas' lawsuit challenging DACA on July 6.
SEE ALSO: Dreamers hold hope as DACA lawsuit heads to 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
For more on this story, follow Rosie Nguyen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.