Jesus Contreras, a Houston-area paramedic, worked for six days straight rescuing diabetics, cancer patients, and elderly residents trapped in their homes by rising flood waters.
“It was emotional because you’re seeing people go through some of the hardest moments of your life,” Contreras told BuzzFeed News. “It shook up our entire community.”
After days of little sleep, the paramedic finally had a chance to make it back to his home in Spring, a suburb north of Houston, on Thursday afternoon,
That’s when the 23-year-old heard the news that President Trump was considering ending DACA, the federal program that allowed him to stay and work in the United States.
The Obama-era program protects undocumented immigrants who, like Contreras, were brought to the U.S. as children from being deported, with nearly 800,000 people having already received work permits and deferral from deportation.
“Hearing that my future in the United States is being threatened and possibly taken away was disheartening, it was disappointing,” Contreas said. “It was like getting an extra kick to the face when you’re already down.”
“We just got hit by a hurricane here — and now we’re getting hit by another storm, an even bigger one,” he told NBC News on Friday.
Artemio Muniz, chair of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, said DACA recipients in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey were hit with a double whammy over the last week.
“The timing is just so bad,” Muniz told BuzzFeed News. “Some of them lost their homes and are trying to recover from the hurricane.”
But the Trump administration faced pressure recently from attorneys general and officials in multiple states, including Texas, to dismantle the program by Sept. 5 or face a lawsuit.
Had DACA been rescinded during the six days he spent helping people from the hurricane, Contreras said he would have immediately been pulled away from his ambulance.
“To think that could’ve happened potentially at a time like this when people need us is terrible,” Contreras said.
Contreras was brought to the U.S. when he was 6 years old by his mother from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. He explains they were fleeing violence and local drug crime at home.
“We came here with the hope of being free and being able to work and make a productive life,” Contreras said. “My mom came here with the intention of giving me the best opportunities I could have and DACA has allowed me to do just that.”
“There are countless people with DACA that are out here volunteering, coordinating with shelters and relief,” Contreras said. “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.”
On Tuesday, when the Trump administration is expected to be announce their decision on DACA, Contreras will be coming home from another shift at the Montgomery County Hospital District.
“I’m a man of faith and I have faith and hope that things will work out for us and we can rest easy,” he said. “I want people who are against us to know that we are proud Americans, we have a lot of pride in this country, and that we’re going to stay here to fight and to help each other.”