- IBM brought some of the so-called Dreamers that work for the company to Washington DC.
- Dreamers are children who were brought to the US illegally with their parents, and who now have jobs and roots in the country.
- IBM is fighting to ensure the 30 Dreamers it employs are not deported as Congress revisits immigration laws.
Alan Torres is a “dreamer,” meaning his parents brought him to the US illegally when he was a kid, he grew up not knowing he wasn’t a legal resident and he loves the US as his home country.
Since the Trump Administration announced that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), his future hangs over a canyon on uncertainty. DACA is an Obama-era program that exempted dreamers from deportation for two-year periods, and allowed them to get work permits, as long as they stay out of trouble. A bi-partisan bill called the Dream Act that would give people like Torres a path to permanent residency. That’s why people like Torres are called “dreamers.”
Today, Torres is a software quality assurance engineer at IBM, one of 30 dreamers that IBM employs. IBM is one of a number of tech companies fighting vigorously to keep dreamers from being deported. President Donald Trump wants Congress to deal with dreamers by passing legislation. But with the current state of dysfunction in Washington, that’s easier said than done.
Trump gave Congress six months to figure it out. After that, if Trump doesn’t alter course, Dreamers will not be spared from deportation. Currently, no new dreamers are being accepted into the DACA program, but those that have DACA status can continue in their lives until that status runs out.
Torres, 31, agreed to speak to Business Insider about what life is like for him as Dreamer tech worker — his story is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
From his point of view: Imagine being forced to leave a job you love, a home you own, and the country where you grew up because of something your parents did when you were just a kid.
From ROTC to IBM
“It was 1999 when I first came to America. I was 13 years old. We came to Dallas and that’s where I’ve always lived. As a kid, I was unaware of my situation,” he says.
“I remember when 9/11 happened. I was sitting in school. I was in the ROTC program and I remember I was wearing the uniform, and I felt as American as apple pie. I remember sitting there and crying with the rest of my class. I think I was 15 or 16 at the time, and I looking around and thinking, ‘I can’t believe this happened to my nation,'” he says.
It wasn’t until Torres tried to apply for his driver’s permit, which required a social security number that he didn’t have, that he started to realize that something was different about his situation. He asked around about how to get this number and that’s how he learned that, not only wasn’t he not a citizen, he wasn’t even a legal resident.
Torres was a good student who had been taking advanced placement classes and his teachers encouraged him to apply for college. That too, felt impossible without a social security number.
“I graduated from high school and felt doors closing in on me. I had dreams and aspirations. I wanted to go into biomedical engineering,” he said.
Instead, he got a job in the restaurant industry. He felt trapped, living in the shadows, with no real future until he met another immigrant, a business owner who took Torres under his wing and helped him sign up for community college.
This was before the DACA program, which meant he couldn’t qualify for financial aid. So he paid for each class in full. He transferred to a university and obtained an IT degree. It took him about seven years to graduate, taking classes as he could afford them. When he graduated, “I never thought I could practice my profession. I was just doing it for the sake of putting the degree on the wall.”
While in college he met a woman who was an IT director for a major corporation. She wanted to hire him after graduation but he wouldn’t agree to an interview, not wanting to expose his illegal status. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and arranged for an interview anyway.
“I was petrified. Out of the fear of being exposed about my [immigration] status, I showed up for the interview,” he said. To his shock, a few weeks later, he was offered the job.
It was 2012, the DACA program had just started and he had already applied for it. On the same day he got the job offer, “I received notification that I was approved for DACA and I would receive my work permit in a couple of weeks,” he said. “It changed my world overnight.”
He got a driver’s license, medical insurance, and paid for medical care for his family. Before that, his parents simply didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick, he said.
He did well in his career, moving to various jobs until he was hired at IBM almost two years ago. His proudest achievement: saving enough money to buy a house earlier this year. “That’s the American Dream,” he said.
But then the Trump administration announced the end of the DACA program. His DACA status is good through 2019, but he was turned down for a car loan, labeled as “high risk”
The idea of being forced to leave his job, house, friends that he loves is both terrifying and depressing.
“You grow up and you embrace this country. This is your community and your neighborhood and you feel like you are a part of it, right? But you feel like part of you is not wanted. And it’s really difficult. It’s like falling in love with the wrong person and she doesn’t love you back,” he says.
Talking with lawmakers
IBM has been bringing its Dreamer employees like Torres to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers so they can see the people who will be impacted by their legislation, or lack thereof. Some 800,000 people are in a similar situation in the US.
Torres was part of a coalition of dreamers that went to DC on Wednesday to tell his story to lawmakers.
He and other dreamers met with various lawmakers or their staff including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and so on.
“Everyone has been really respectful,” he says of the meetings.
IBM is one of a number of companies that brought Dreamers to DC on Wednesday as part of an organization called the Coalition for the American Dream that seeks to get a law passed that will allow Dreamers to stay in the US.
In the meantime, Torres is preparing for the worst. “I paid off all my debt and I’m trying to pile up money,” he says. “If I have to leave I’ll move somewhere else. I hear Canada is looking for people in IT.”
Still he’s hopeful it won’t come to that. “We are not looking for a handout, or to pay less taxes or take benefits,” he says of himself and fellow Dreamers. He just wants to work hard and continue to live his good life in America.
“I feel grateful,” he says of his life.
Here’s a YouTube video IBM put together about the lives of the several Dreamers the company employs.