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3 Dreamers describe how DACA helped them find careers in America

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
Roger Federer shakes hands with his hitting partner Adrian Escarate (L) prior to the men’s final at the Miami Open between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 2, 2017. Escarate is a DACA recipient who says tennis is his greatest passion and he hopes to become a sports commentator (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald)

Congress failed to pass any kind of legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by the March 5 deadline, leaving an estimated 700,000 undocumented immigrants in limbo.

President Donald Trump is reportedly open to a temporary fix for Dreamers in a spending bill in exchange for funding for a border wall. But amid the slew of temporary fixes and proposals, DACA recipients are feeling increasingly uncertain and fearful about their futures. The program, first introduced in 2012, protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation and grants them work permits.

Though these young adults face restrictive financial and legal circumstances, these limitations may lead to the career paths they are pursuing. Yahoo Finance spoke with three of these Dreamers.

The road to managing $15 million in assets

Chirayu Patel is an asset manager responsible for $15 million worth of real estate assets for CV Ventures, a Chicago-based investment firm. After immigrating to the U.S. from India when he was 11 years old, Patel became the only person in his family to attend college, graduating cum laude in political science from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2006.

As an undocumented immigrant without work certification, Patel couldn’t find a job after graduation so he became an organizer in the Devon Avenue area of Chicago, where many South Asian immigrant communities work and live. There, he registered people to vote and kept them engaged in local elections.

Patel eventually became an independent contractor but found that employers were looking for candidates with accounting and finance skills. In order to find more work, he felt the urgency to take several courses at a local community college to build that skillset. Then, he eventually received DACA in January 2013 and was hired by his current company.

While many Americans champion a holistic, liberal arts education, DACA recipients don’t have the luxury to learn simply for the sake of learning. Patel said he can’t imagine doing anything else for a living, and is grateful that he was forced to adopt hard skills.

“My undergrad degree gave me critical thinking and management skills, but not technical skills. Technical skills will be important because whether DACA remains or if I will have to somehow go back to starting my own business and finding opportunities that way, it will give me a better foundation to stand on,” he said.

Finding a passion in an unexpected way

Pamela Chomba, 28, is the Northeast Organizing Director at FWD.us, a bipartisan organization founded by tech leaders to tackle immigration reform. Founders include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston, Social Capital founder and CEO Chamath Palihapitiya and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

She immigrated to Newark, N.J. from Peru when she was 11 years old, and never anticipated that her career goals would cross paths with her Dreamer status. Chomba graduated from Marist University with a degree in history in 2012 and became a DACA recipient shortly after. Initially, she sought out grant-writing roles for nonprofits or research roles at a museum. But after serving as Regional Director for a Campaign in Harris County, she found that her real passion was helping people find their voice and encouraging them to go out and vote.

“I quickly realized I wanted to work in immigration reform. This is something that was meant to happen. Immigration kind of found me,” she said. Chomba joined Fwd.us in 2015 and has been with the company ever since.

Though her DACA status expires in October, Chomba is trying not to think too far ahead, especially as Washington has been unreliable and unpredictable.

“DACA works and I want it to continue and evolve into a way that we can enter into a pathway to citizenship. I want to prove it to my friends and employers. For now, I’m thinking about the freedom I have now.”

The talented tennis pro

Like Chomba and Patel, Adrian Escarate found a way to support himself precisely because of his Dreamer status.

Escarate, who was born in Chile, moved to Miami when he was 3 years old. Growing up, he played competitive tennis at school and received private scholarships to play on the tennis team at St. Thomas University, where he graduated cum laude in 2011 with a degree in communications. He gave private tennis lessons during his college career to make extra cash. And during the summers, he was unable to find internships or jobs because his lack of work certification. 

“I was able to find jobs at summer camps teaching tennis. If it weren’t for tennis, I would have had to work with my dad in the janitorial business or try to find any type of job that I could have taken, like construction work or other difficult labor jobs,” he said.

Though he was eligible to apply for DACA when it was first introduced in 2012, Escarate chose not to submit his application right away.

“I waited some time because it was a little nerve-wracking and scary to apply to a program like DACA because you were sending in all your information to [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] and there was a possibility that they could use that information against you,” he said.

He ended up applying at the end of 2013 and got his work permit and driver’s license in mid-2014. Despite not having official work certification, Escarate was able to build a lucrative one-man business teaching tennis to students across South Florida. Now, he is a full-time tennis pro at Miami’s Biltmore Tennis Center.

Dreaming big

Escarate has been teaching tennis for a decade, and while he loves the sport, he doesn’t see himself doing it for the rest of his life. In between lessons, he has been pursuing a master’s degree in communications at St. Thomas and is on track to graduate this December.

“I have a very physical job and it’s very taxing on my body. I want to find work in communications. Still, tennis is my number one passion,” he said.

“My dream job would be to work for ESPN as a tennis analyst or a soccer analyst or work in some type of public relations type of job for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) where I could travel to different tournaments and do PR for players.”

Rather than being in a state of constant fear of detention and deportation, Dreamers like Patel, Chomba and Escarate are transcending their circumstances to find success in the U.S.

Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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