Belén Sisa once wrote an op-ed urging Arizona officials to allow undocumented students like her to pay in-state tuition — so she could attend a university and become a lawyer someday.
“My birthplace shouldn’t be allowed to dictate my future,” she wrote in 2015 in the widely shared article published by the Arizona Republic.
Now, nearly two years later, the Argentina-born 23-year-old is back in the spotlight after she took to Facebook to share a picture of herself holding her 2016 IRS Form 1040.
“MYTH BUSTER,” the caption says. “I, an undocumented immigrant, just filed my taxes and PAID $300 to the state of Arizona.
“I cannot receive financial aid from the state or federal government for school, I cannot benefit from unemployment, a reduced healthcare plan, or a retirement fund. I think I’m a pretty good citizen. Oh and there are MILLIONS just like me who pay into a system they will never receive anything from. Wanna tell me again how I should be deported, contribute nothing and only leech off this country while the 1% wealthiest people in this country steal from you everyday?”
She ended the caption by tagging the president: “How about you show me yours Donald J. Trump? #HereToStay”
Sisa was 6 years old when she came to the United States with her parents, who later overstayed their visa. She said she has been allowed to stay in the country legally through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The Obama-era policy gives immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as minors a renewable two-year reprieve in which they won’t be deported and would be eligible to work.
Like U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the more than 700,000 DACA recipients — or “dreamers,” as they are also called — are required to pay taxes if they are working and earning a certain amount. They don’t qualify for federal financial aid, grants and scholarships, although some states allow them to receive state-funded benefits and pay in-state tuition.
Sisa’s Facebook post has gone viral since she shared it on Sunday. She said she decided to share the picture to dispel misconceptions that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes.
“I’ve been paying taxes for the past four years,” Sisa told The Washington Post. “It really pains me to think that I’ve given my entire life for this country. I pay taxes, I do the right thing, and yet most of the public think that undocumented immigrants don’t contribute … and just leech off of government programs.”
She said she tagged the president, who has refused to release his tax returns, to drive home her point.
“I feel like the American public is very worried about undocumented immigrants not paying taxes,” she said. “When I posted the 1040 form, people told me it was blank and I was lying. Why aren’t you asking the same questions from the president of the United States who’s a billionaire?”
Stephen Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, told Vice News in 2014 that the 7 million people who were working in the country illegally pay about $12 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund. The conservative Heritage Foundation has a lower estimate: $7 billion in social security taxes.
A 2016 study by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy found that undocumented immigrants pay about $11.6 billion in state and local taxes.
Sisa said her social media inboxes have been flooded with vile messages over the past few days. Some commented on her appearance. Many accused her of committing a crime for being in the country illegally — even though DACA has given her legal presence.
Others told her they have reported her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE’s acting director said during a recent public forum in Sacramento that immigration agents do not arrest DACA recipients — unless they’ve committed a crime, in which case their “dreamer” status is revoked.
Sisa said the negative responses don’t bother her.
“You know what, this is exactly what they want. They want to scare me and instill fear so that I will shut up and I won’t continue to bring these issues to light,” she said. “I hit a nerve. I told them the truth and they couldn’t handle it. Everything they’ve ever known was challenged.”
Sisa posted screenshots of some of the messages on her Facebook page because she wants the public to know the kind of hate faced by many immigrants.
“They’re starting to see what immigrants are up against,” she said. “Even when an immigrant does the right thing, it’s not good enough. It’s not about us doing the right thing. It’s about the fact that racism and xenophobia are alive and well in this country.”
Amid the hostility was an outpouring of positive messages.
“Thank you for working hard, being honest and open,” one Facebook user wrote in reply to Sisa’s post. “Keep making the best of a bad situation that you did not ask to be in.”
“I admire your strength, Belen! You’re undocumented, unafraid, and here to stay. We sure as hell have got your back,” wrote another.
On Wednesday, Sisa urged other immigrants to do what she did: Post selfies with their tax forms, cautioning them to not share any personal information.
Sisa, now a junior political science major at Arizona State University, recently co-founded a student organization called Undocumented Students for Education Equity at ASU.
According to its Facebook page, the new group was created by DACA students who found themselves in a “political limbo” and felt a “sense of danger” following the election of Trump, who rose to power in part because of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
As a candidate, Trump campaigned on a promise to build a border wall, deport millions of undocumented immigrants and rescind President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Trump also referred to DACA as “unconstitutional executive amnesty.”
Trump’s immigration policies, however, don’t affect DACA, and the president has significantly softened his rhetoric about “dreamers,” even calling them “incredible kids,” according to the New York Times.
But advocates caution undocumented immigrants to not apply for the federal program because of fears the administration will use their personal information to detain and deport them, The Washington Post’s David Nakamura reported.