Paramedic who rescued Harvey victims could be deported if Trump rejects DACA

In Texas, hundreds of thousands get hit twice: First Harvey, now DACA


MIAMI – If President Donald Trump decides to put at end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a paramedic who saved lives for six days after Harvey hit Houston could be deported after losing his job. 

When the White House announces Trump's decision on DACA Tuesday, Jesus Contreras, 23, plans to be working in the Montgomery County Hospital District. He is among the hundreds of thousands of Texas-area DACA beneficiaries who were dealing with the possibility of losing even more than they already have. 

"I worked for six days helping with disaster relief," Contreras said during an NBCNews interview. "If DACA had been removed in the middle of that, I would have been taken off the ambulance. You are out there giving your heart out and then you find out this might happen."

Contreras said he decided to talk to reporters about his immigration status, because he knows many in his situation are too afraid to do so. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services records Texas has the second highest population of DACA recipients in the country.

DACA made it possible for about 800,000 former undocumented migrants to live without the fear of deportation. They were also able to obtain a driver's license, qualify for in-state college tuition and secure better jobs. The program only applies to migrants who moved to the U.S. before their 16th birthday and have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007. 

California has the highest population of DACA recipients. In Texas, some 214,000 were initially approved to the five-year-old program and about 153,000 renewed their temporary DACA card in 2016. Illinois, New York and Florida follow Texas. 

The majority of the migrants protected are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the three Central American countries where drug-trafficking operations continue to fuel the proliferation of gang activity

Contreras' mother left the Mexican northeastern state of Tamaulipas and brought him to the United States when he was a 6-year-old boy. The Gulf and the Zetas, two rival drug cartels, compete for power in Tamaulipas, a territory used to smuggle drugs into the U.S., because its access to the Gulf of Mexico.    

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents believe some Mexican officials in the area are so highly corrupt that to survive they have alliances with the drug cartels. For decades, the demand for drugs in the U.S. has contributed to perpetuating the cycle of violence. 

Trump is under pressure to keep the Central American crisis out of the U.S., and conservatives believe this can be done with a border wall and tougher immigration enforcement. They want him to abolish DACA or refuse to defend it in court to put an end to it. 

Executives from Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech giants joined more than 100 law professors who were asking Trump to keep the DACA program arguing that President Barack Obama's executive order to establish DACA was not only legal, but good for the U.S. economy.

"All DACA recipients grew up in America, registered with our government, submitted to extensive background checks, and are diligently giving back to our communities and paying income taxes," their Friday letter said. "Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is among those in government who oppose DACA and question its legality because it wasn't approved by congress. Attorneys generals from 10 states demanded the suspension of DACA and threatened fo file suit unless Trump begins to dismantle the program by Tuesday. Sessions would be responsible for defending DACA if there was a lawsuit. 

There is a bipartisan effort in Congress to help students and young professionals like Contreras. Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat, are among those pushing for the Dream Act of 2017.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, introduced the bill in the senate July 20. The legislation aims to protect minors who have continuously been in the U.S. for at least four years before the law's enactment. The new bill would create a path toward a green card and U.S. Citizenship. Contreras hasn't lost faith. 

"I want people who are against us to know that we are proud Americans," Contreras said during an interview with BuzzFeed News. "We have a lot of pride in this country and that we are going to stay here to fight and to help each other."


About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.