Business & Economy

Why entrepreneurship could be a way forward for 'Dreamers'

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If Congress fails to preserve DACA, entrepreneurship could be the way many of the program's beneficiaries ultimately make a living.

After weeks of speculation, the Trump administration has said it will phase out the DACA program, also known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in six months. It put the onus on Congress to pass legislation to keep the program alive.

Without Congressional action, the government will stop renewing DACA work authorizations in March. Tens of thousands of DACA recipients would see their work authorizations expire each month through 2020, leading to mass layoffs. About 200,000 live in California.

Under the Obama-era program, more than 80o,000 young unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the country as children have been allowed to work in the U.S. legally over the past five years. Most DACA recipients, also referred to as "Dreamers," are Latin American immigrants in their 20s and early 30s who have completed high school. Studies indicate that at least 80 percent of them work full time and at least 20 percent have college degrees.

Experts say those out-of-work Dreamers may try to start their own businesses to support themselves. Self-employment may be the only viable option they'd have. People who are self-employed in the U.S. do not have to produce a work authorization or proof of legal status.

"If individuals begin to lose their work permits, then we all need to find a way to survive and thrive," said Iliana Perez, who spearheaded the project Immigrants Rising, an organization that helps immigrants launch their own businesses. 

Since the presidential election, the project has seen an uptick in calls from immigrants asking how to start their own businesses.

"We all sort of knew DACA was temporary, and with the new administration there was a high likelihood of DACA getting rescinded, so we have been receiving a lot of requests from individuals wanting to learn about alternative ways of making a living without work authorization," Perez said.

DACA recipient Maria Fernanda Castello already owns a small car dealership in La Puente with her parents. It helped cushioned the blow when she heard Tuesday's news that DACA was indeed being rolled back.

"It helped to know that I have my business, and I can keep flourishing that way," she said.

But Castello is also studying to become a veterinarian at Mount San Antonio College. She'd hoped her DACA authorization would allow her to work at a clinic in the coming years. After Tuesday's announcement, she said that suddenly felt out of reach.

As the DACA news circulated through her campus, Castello said she began to realize just how many of her classmates also have DACA work authorizations. Some of them asked her how they, too, could start a business if they lost the ability to work for a company.

"I was like, 'You can open just a tiny little [home office] and write an Articles of Operation, just to have your own business, so you guys can have something to fall back on," she said.

Dreamers come from such a wide range of educational and technical backgrounds that they'd be able to start businesses in a variety of fields, said Perez, adding that many she has spoken to are considering marketing, social media and legal consultancies.

Dreamers would also have an edge because they have social security numbers – something they received when they were approved through DACA. Assuming the Social Security Administration allows Dreamers to keep those social security numbers, it would make it easier to complete the paperwork to start a small business. 

The Social Security Administration operates separately from the Department of Homeland Security, so DACA recipients should not worry that ICE agents will track them using their social security numbers, Perez said.

It might be tempting for Dreamers-turned-entrepreneurs to ask their former employers for contract work, she said. However, it is against the law for a U.S. company to contract with a business owner whom it knows is in the U.S. illegally. So DACA recipients who wade into contract work would have to drum up customers elsewhere, Perez said.