The day in 2019 that I left my 9-to-5 job to start an online retail business was a major turning point in my career. I wasn’t just my own boss, I was following my family’s tradition of entrepreneurship — making a living and contributing to my community on my own terms.

As a young person who grew up in this country undocumented — one of 1.2 million Dreamers — I’ve realized there can be more security in forging my own path. Still, my situation remains uncertain. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently ruled against the DACA program, leaving us once again in legal limbo as the litigation continues. The case will likely head to the Supreme Court, which isn’t likely to rule in our favor. This means only Congress can secure our future here.  

My parents had good careers in Mexico before they brought me here as a toddler. My father was a banker, and my mother was a journalist. But when my mom suffered a stroke at age 26, she needed better medical care. Here in the U.S., she was able to receive the more advanced treatments she needed. 

My dad had to start over in a new country. He found inspiration in his sister, who immigrated here two years before and sold jewelry and accessories at markets and expositions across the state. When I was 2 years old, he launched a similar business.

Immigrants are 80% more likely to start a business than native-born citizens, according to a recent study. But business owners who are undocumented face numerous barriers, including not being able to build credit or drive without fear of being pulled over and deported. Many banks are hesitant to provide loans to undocumented business owners, even though there are approximately more than 820,000 of us in the U.S., creating jobs, paying taxes, and growing the economy. In 2016, undocumented entrepreneurs earned $15.2 billion in business income.  

I initially dreamed of becoming a teacher, not an entrepreneur. When President Obama announced the DACA program soon after I graduated high school, we hired a lawyer. When my application came through, I was ecstatic. I enrolled at Northeast Lakeview College to pursue my dream of teaching, but the out-of-pocket tuition proved too steep. I was studying and attending classes all day, then working at a restaurant all evening. I’d collapse around midnight, then wake up at dawn to do it all over again. It was an unsustainable pace and I ultimately left school. If I had known there were scholarships or financial aid for Dreamers, maybe things would’ve turned out differently. But DACA was so new, I didn’t know where to turn for help. 

Instead, I decided to follow my other passions and work for myself. After four years of working a 9-to-5 corporate job at a call center, I took a leap of faith and started Vida Mia Boutique, an online retail business selling jewelry and accessories. Today, my business is thriving and I’ve built a dedicated customer base on Instagram and TikTok. Still, I need more stability in this country. I want to grow my business, open a warehouse and hire employees. I could continue to operate without DACA, but I’d be doing so in the shadows, constantly afraid that my thriving business would be dismantled in the blink of an eye. Ultimately, that would mean lost jobs and tax dollars for my community.  

I love this country. I’m just as American as anyone else, so the thought of being sent back to a country I barely know is terrifying. I attended kindergarten with my U.S.-born peers and donned the same cap and gown as them when we graduated high school. I went to prom and volunteered with our local church with them. My parents attended parent-teacher conferences and donated to school fundraisers. This is our country. I want to stay here and build the life I’ve always dreamed of.  

Monsi Contreras

Monsi Contreras is the owner of Vida Mia Boutique and lives in San Antonio.