Dreamer Jesus Contreras, 23, spent six days working around the clock to rescue survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. On Tuesday, he learned that his country appears to have little appreciation for people who risk their lives to be a positive force in their communities, when President Donald Trump decided to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
"It was just a complete 180," Contreras told CBC Radio host Carol Off. "We just got done with one storm and we're facing yet another."
While helping in the Harvey relief effort, Contreras had fought to keep his spirits up despite the imminent threat to the President Barack Obama-era program. However, despite attempts to stay hopeful, the potential for his entire life to be upended was "like getting an extra kick to the face when you're already down."
"I worked for six days helping with disaster relief," he told NBC News last week. "And if DACA had been removed in the middle of that, I would've been taken off the ambulance. You're out there giving your heart out — and then you find out this might happen."
Although technically born in another country, Contreras knows the U.S. to be his only home. He was brought to America when he was just 6 years old, crossing the border with his mother to escape the violence and drug crime in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and establish a better, safer life in the U.S. He's spent most of his life in Houston and became a certified paramedic last year, something he credits DACA for making possible.
"There are countless people with DACA that are out here volunteering, coordinating with shelters and relief,” Contreras explained to Buzzfeed News. “I have this opportunity to share my story but I’m far from the only one and there are millions of people just like me doing even bigger things.”
Now, despite the good life he's made for himself and the sacrifices he makes for his community, Contreras' future is uncertain. If DACA ends in six months with no Congressional alternative, he will lose his paramedic's license, his job, and he could be easily deported since the government retains his information from his DACA application. It's a terrifying reality, but when faced with the worst, people like Contreras do their best.
"I want people who are against us to know that we are proud Americans," he said. "We have a lot of pride in this country, and that we’re going to stay here to fight and to help each other.”
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters photographer Carlos Allegri