Tuesday September 05, 2017

'Kicked while we were down': Paramedic who saved Harvey victims faces deportation if DACA ends

Houston-area paramedic Jesus Contreras is one of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States facing deportation after the Trump administration announced it will dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Houston-area paramedic Jesus Contreras is one of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States facing deportation after the Trump administration announced it will dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Jesus Contreras/Facebook )

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Jesus Contreras was already dealing with a devastating regional crisis when he found himself facing a life-altering personal one.

The Houston-area paramedic had just worked six days straight saving Harvey victims in his home state of Texas when he learned on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump was planning to dismantle the government program that protects some 800,000 young immigrants, sometimes called "Dreamers," who were brought into the country illegally as children.

"It was just a complete 180," Contreras, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. by his mother when he was six years old, told As It Happens host Carol Off. "We just got done with one storm and we're facing yet another." 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday the government would begin the process of winding down the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) progam, calling it "an unconstitutional exercise of authority."

Artemio Muniz, chair of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, told BuzzFeed News that Contreras is just one of many DACA recipients in Texas who are dealing with the aftermath of Harvey while their future in the country hangs in the balance.

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Contreras spent six days rescuing Harvey victims in Houston before learning about DACA's fate (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Contreras said he has friends, family members and colleagues who are in the same boat.

"We kind of got kicked while we were down dealing with the hurricane and we got kicked around by the president." he said. "But we've been trying to work through it and push through."

The Trump administration gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix for DACA before the government stops renewing permits for people already covered by the program.

"After this six-month period, if there is no resolution with DACA, then that means I lose my licence to practice, I lose my job, you know, I lose my friends, my family, everything that I've worked for here," Contreras said.

"I'm not an anomaly. ... There's many, many, many like me that are doing the same thing, that are giving back to their community, that are working hard for the nation and trying to be, you know, model citizens."

Sessions said on Tuesday the U.S. "cannot admit everyone who would like to come here."

In a statement issued by the White House, Trump said, "I do not favour punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws."

Contreras called the Trump administration's rhetoric on DACA "disgusting" and chided the president for going back on his earlier pledge treat Dreamers "with heart." 

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Demonstrators hold signs during a protest in front of the White House after the Trump administration today scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Nevertheless, he vowed not to give into anger. 

"My pastor just finished preaching a good message this weekend and it's the story of David and Goliath. And the crazy thing is that to be successful and to prosper, sometimes you have to have opposition, and it's that opposition that elevates you and makes the story out of what you are and brings out the best in people," he said.

"And right now, that Goliath is Trump. It's the government. But we here, like David, are fighting and we're going to overcome this Goliath and we're going to make a story for ourselves and be in history as advocates, as successful people and as citizens of the United States."

With files from Reuters and Associated Press