‘Top Chef’ contestant and DACA recipient Byron Gomez calls policy ‘a life-changing experience’

‘Top Chef’ contestant and DACA recipient Byron Gomez calls policy ‘a life-changing experience’

Byron Gomez worked his way from Burger King worker to Top Chef cooking competition contestant to executive chef at an Aspen, Colorado, restaurant. In between that time, he’s also worked under noted chefs Daniel Boulud and Daniel Humm.

While he’s accomplished this through his own talent and grit, he says the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has played a monumental part in his advancement. In fact, Gomez writes in Eater that he “can confidently say the only reason” he is a chef today “is because of DACA.”

RELATED STORY: On DACA’s 10th anniversary, immigrants celebrate wins, continue pushing for citizenship for all

DACA “was a life-changing experience,” he writes in Eater. He applied for the program in 2014. “When I joined the team at Eleven Madison Park, it was the first time I was able to take full advantage of employee benefits,” he continued. Gomez had been working before but once he could do so legally, he was able to access the benefits that had previously not been available to him. 

“I was able to contribute to a 401(k) and receive employer-based health insurance,” he continued. “I was able to start building credit and open bank accounts. But more than that, it gave me confidence.” This includes appearing on the 18th season of Top Chef, and, for the first time, speaking publicly about his DACA status. He said “the outpouring of support was incredible.”

“I was nervous to talk about it at first—would people judge me?” he wrote. “Would they see me differently? The number of parents and kids who reached out letting me know that I inspired them made me more proud than I’ve ever been before.” He said that if he “can change one person’s mind about the value that immigrants bring to the United States, and show them how important DACA is, my job is done.”

But despite the program’s successes—or more likely, because of the program’s successes—Republican sued, completely halting brand new applications. While current and former beneficiaries may still renew their protections, no first-time applications are being accepted. This GOP-led litigation, combined with outdated government guidelines, means that most undocumented high schoolers are graduating into uncertainty. 

“For the first time, a majority of the undocumented immigrants graduating from high schools across the United States have none of the protections offered over the past 10 years under” DACA, The New York Times has reported, saying that this number could grow by 100,000 annually.

“I just think there needs to be a better way for the government to honor those who have honored this country,” Gomez continues. “I want to be part of this society. And the more we educate people, the more we start to speak about this, the more examples that we show of this program, the more it will give people a different outlook. We are no different from anyone. We have aspirations, we have dreams. It just takes a couple of people to speak up and to do a movement for these things to get recognized.”

“Will I be able to find employment in my field, contribute to this country, ever live a regular life?” 22-year-old Domonick told The New York Times. He missed the DACA cutoff deadline by just a couple of days. “Will I have to pack up and leave the only place that I call home?” No, he shouldn’t have to. This is his home. He just needs the piece of paper that says so.

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