From top to bottom, our country’s broken immigration system is in dire need of reform. Among the most immediate challenges is the unresolved status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA program.
Though DACA is a federal program, its benefits touch every walk of public life – from our country’s global competitiveness all the way to the social fabric of neighborhoods in Stanislaus County. Congress must safeguard DACA before it is too late.
I commend Rep. Jeff Denham for his leadership on this important issue. He understands how critical Dreamers are to our economy. He is a great representative for our region, and I am proud he is supporting the bipartisan Dream Act.
DACA creates access to a job and a college education for hundreds of thousands of young people caught up in the dysfunction of our national immigration policy, those who were brought to this country illegally as children – many at such a young age that they do not even remember their home country, and may only speak English. Now as young adults, they are chasing the American Dream just like the rest of us – going to college, working their jobs and providing for their families in the only country they have ever called home.
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DACA was established five years ago to give these young “Dreamers” a chance to stay in the country if they comply with strict standards. But now, attorneys general from 10 states are threatening to sue the Trump administration if the President does not eliminate DACA.
Congress can and should immediately act to protect DACA by enshrining the program in statute. There is legislation like the DREAM Act and the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would fortify DACA against lawsuits and keep the American Dream alive for nearly 800,000 young people who have been faithfully participating in the program.
DACA holds these young dreamers to a high standard: They must be employed with a job or enrolled in college, must have extensive background checks, and must pay fees and meet other criteria. DACA is by no means amnesty; it does not grant access to citizenship. DACA recipients do not qualify for federal benefits. They cannot travel for leisure. And they must renew their registration every two years.
Faced with these hurdles, Dreamers have shown how badly they want to be part of the American Dream. Ninety-five percent of DACA recipients are working or in college. An estimated 44,000 DACA recipients have even launched their own businesses. California is home to about 200,000 Dreamers.
Eliminating DACA now would turn these upstanding members of our community into targets for deportation, diverting law enforcement resources from actual security threats to targeting people who only wish to work and contribute to our economy and communities. Here in Stanislaus County, this would mean uprooting 6,000 workers and students, instead of focusing on real threats to public safety.
Moreover, abruptly removing these Dreamers from our workforce would cost employers nationally an estimated $3.4 billion in unnecessary turnover, cut contributions to Medicare and Social Security by $24.6 billion and slash the purchasing power of immigrant households.
The long-term impacts might be even more devastating. It’s no mystery that our country’s workforce faces a growing skills gap, threatening our overall economic competitiveness. DACA is an effective policy to help young build the skills necessary for long-term prosperity for themselves and for our country.
Eliminating DACA would derail the careers of nearly 800,000 workers, forcing them to the margins of society. Experts estimate the elimination of DACA would cause our country about $433.4 billion in lost GDP over the next decade.
Most distressingly, ending DACA now amounts to the U.S. reneging on its promise to 800,000 young people and their families. They are our neighbors, our friends, our kids’ classmates and our employees. They came out of the shadows when we extended the promise of opportunity. Withdrawing that promise undermines our moral standing in the world and upends immigrant households who contribute to our communities. I urge Congress to protect Dreamers by passing a legislative solution.
Kristin Olsen represents District 1 on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.