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OPINION

I’m a Dreamer. Ask my 80+ employees if I should be deported

Last year, I made the Forbes “30 Under 30” list after founding Airfox, a Boston fintech startup that’s raised $26.5 million in funding and now employs more than 80 people. Sounds like the American Dream, right?

Globe Staff; Adobe

I don’t come from a wealthy family, but by working hard I earned a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, then got my dream job at Google. Now at 27, I’m a successful tech entrepreneur with two businesses under my belt. Last year, I made the Forbes “30 Under 30″ list after founding Airfox, a Boston fintech startup that’s raised $26.5 million in funding and now employs more than 80 people. Sounds like the American Dream, right?

But I’m also an undocumented immigrant, and for the past decade I’ve feared the knock of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers at my door. My ability to live in the United States and run my business depends entirely on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — the 2012 Obama administration program designed to defer the deportation of young immigrants brought to America as children, known as Dreamers. President Trump is now urging the Supreme Court to scrap DACA.

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I spoke no English when I first landed in California at 12 years old. My parents had owned a small construction company in Brazil but dreamed of a better life in America. They sold everything, and played by the rules, using business visas to bring us to the United States lawfully. With minimal savings and no access to capital, they struggled but eventually built a thriving business in Los Angeles.

In 2009, however, as I was about to graduate from high school, the federal government said we could no longer renew our visas. We had sought repeatedly to apply for green cards, but without success. My father refused to give up, telling me: “If there is no battle, there is no victory.” We’ve been able to stay in America through a series of long court appeals, but still haven’t been able to resolve our case or regain our immigration status.

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Despite having entered the country lawfully, when I finished high school I didn’t qualify for any federal or private loans. I worked my way through community college and then kept working hard in order to transfer to Berkeley. When DACA was launched, in 2012, I applied for protected status so I could work legally without fear of deportation — and thanks to DACA, I was able to intern with tech companies, get a job as a business analyst at Google, and go on to start my own companies.

Victor Santos, founder of Boston-based Airfox
Victor Santos, founder of Boston-based AirfoxMAKPHOTO

As my success shows, Dreamers aren’t freeloaders or criminals. We’re productive members of society and a net gain for the economy, working, starting businesses, and creating jobs. In fact, according to New American Economy research, there are at least 43,000 DACA-eligible entrepreneurs in the United States.

We’re also contributing through the money we earn and the taxes we pay. Here in Massachusetts, DACA-eligible immigrants have a combined spending power of almost $370 million, helping to support countless local businesses, and also pay more than $86 million every year in federal, state, and local taxes. Were the United States to deport all DACA recipients, America would lose an estimated $60 billion in federal taxes and $460.3 billion in national GDP over the next decade.

Personally, I’m lucky to have options. If the Supreme Court rules against DACA, I could relocate my company headquarters from Boston to Brazil, where we already have an office. But that would be scant consolation for my Boston-based workers who would have to choose between relocation and unemployment. It would also rob Boston of the revenues my company draws to the city and the taxes that Airfox and its employees pay into state and local coffers.

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That is what’s at stake when we talk about scrapping DACA: not just the future of bright, hard-working young people like me, but also the future of the countless people we employ, the businesses we support, and the communities where we’ve put down roots. We can’t wait for the Supreme Court; our lawmakers must move quickly to protect Dreamers — and communities, like Boston, that will suffer if we are forced to leave.

Victor Santos is the CEO of Airfox, based in Boston. Follow him on Twitter @DSantos_Victor.