DREAMer Makes a Difference at Mary’s Center

Erik has a lot of things going for him. He is dynamic and ambitious. He is making good progress towards his public health degree and has a high-impact health education job at Mary’s Center, a community health center with locations in Washington DC and Maryland. He is respected by his peers and loved by his Zumba students. He is also a homeowner at the young age of 30 and has a foundation which helps children in Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru. But recent actions by our political leaders threaten the life he has worked so hard to build.

Erik is a DREAMer, a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy that allowed some young people who entered the country as minors without papers to be protected from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit.

Erik was 15 years old when arrived in the United States from Guatemala in 2002. He found a job, helping his mother, who worked as a housekeeper, to earn money for his siblings back home. At age 17, he enrolled at a high school in Beltsville, Maryland, working part time on Saturdays in a restaurant and at a gas station. By taking summer classes, being tutored by his friends and sacrificing extracurricular activities and going to the movies like other young people, Erik graduated in 2007, but because his papers were not in order, he couldn’t get financial aid for college. Never one to give up, he put himself through a year-long medical assistant (MA) course.

Erik as an MA

A door opened for him in June 2012 when the DACA program was established. He applied immediately and was approved in 2013. Having legal status and a work permit at last enabled Erik to get a job at Mary’s Center as an MA. In the evenings, he started teaching free Zumba classes at Mary’s Center, sharing his love for dancing and helping low-income community members who can’t afford a gym membership.  The leadership at the Center realized his potential and transferred him to the Community Health Education department where he teaches participants how to eat well and prevent or fight conditions such as high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes. Erik loves his job and the tangible difference he is making. He is also proud of everything that he has accomplished. But he worries that his American Dream may be snatched away from him.

The September 2017 decision to cancel the DACA program means that Erik and 800,000 other young people could soon lose their ability to remain and work in this country.

 “Like all the DACA recipients, I am anxious. We work hard. We pay our taxes. We own houses and pay to maintain them well and we are conscious of always being the best neighbors. We have jobs where we serve people with pride. We help make the economy stronger,” Erik says.

Erik with special needs Zumba participants

The current situation weighs heavily on Erik’s mind, but he keeps himself busy, studying for his degree through Montgomery College; planning to start Zumba classes for special needs children in the DC metro area; running his foundation; and organizing support meetings for other DACA recipients working at Mary’s Center.

“The only solution is to pray, to be active and to support each other,” he says.

YOU can help defend DREAMers like Erik! Call your Senators and representatives today, following these steps suggested by our partner UnidosUS:

Step 1:  Find out who your Senator or representative is by entering your zip code here.

Step 2:  Call the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or try this easy-to-use tool that automatically connects you with the offices of Members of Congress back-to-back.


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