Tuesday, January 30, 2024
Year : 2, Issue : 5
Congress’s border deal talks might be ongoing, but in one essential area, legislators are moving backward: The ‘dreamers,’ undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children, have been left out of the conversation.
Since the first version of the Dream Act was introduced almost a quarter-century ago, support for the young people who are Americans in every sense but the legal one has been a bright spot of bipartisanship amid acrimony. Almost every immigration compromise that legislators have contemplated has included a pathway to citizenship for these 3 million or so individuals — including a 2022 framework constructed by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who was a Democrat at the time.
President Barack Obama’s program to help the dreamers, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was supposed to be a temporary solution to a problem Congress would, eventually, solve. By granting work authorization and immunity from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, met certain educational requirements and presented no threat to public safety, the executive action offered a cohort of motivated noncitizens the opportunity to grow freely in the only nation they’ve known.
The idea was that legislators would transform this reprieve into a road for dreamers to become citizens. Instead, Congress did nothing. The half a million or so current DACA recipients must renew their status every two years, while approximately 2.5 million dreamers brought here too late to qualify for DACA remain at constant risk of being sent “back” to somewhere they’ve scarcely lived. There are also 100,000 more dreamers who do qualify for DACA but whose applications went unprocessed thanks to covid-era delays. Now, they’re at risk of deportation, too.
It gets worse: Even those 500,000 current DACA recipients could soon lose their status. A federal judge in Texas recently ruled President Biden’s reinstatement of DACA (the program was suspended during Donald Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office) a violation of federal law. But the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit will hear the case next. After that, the case could reach the Supreme Court, where a conservative majority might yank the program out from under immigrants who’ve relied on its protections to start careers and families. More than 300,000 U.S.-born children have at least one parent with DACA. Suddenly, they could be forced to leave everything behind.
The issue isn’t only that this situation is unjust, though it is. The issue is also that leaving the dreamers to languish is a tremendous waste — of talent, enterprise and devotion to the United States. DACA costs the federal government next to nothing. Its recipients don’t receive the benefits, from Pell Grants to go to college to Medicare to cover their doctors’ bills, that citizens do. But they pay $495 to renew their status every two years, and they pay their taxes. Two dreamers have won Rhodes scholarships. Hundreds are doctors and medical students; thousands work in health care in other capacities. Three-hundred forty thousand were deemed essential workers during the pandemic. Many dreamers who attend college major in education and go on to teach.
The country needs more doctors. It needs more teachers, and it needs teachers bilingual in English and Spanish especially. Many dreamers would love to fill these roles but cannot; many DACA recipients are already filling them today, and forcing them out will hurt their employers, their patients, their students and more.
Why, then, is Congress forgetting the dreamers this time around? However poisoned against immigrants the political conversation may have become, lawmakers from conservative districts shouldn’t be afraid to vote for a position that the vast majority of Americans support. Such a policy would allow everyone who came here as a child the ability, by meeting educational, workforce or military requirements, to apply for permanent legal status — starting, most likely, with a green card.
But there are more modest alternatives, if this is too much for legislators to countenance, such as allowing the current DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship or allowing the 100,000 whose applications are in limbo the same privilege. At the very least, Congress could codify DACA so that the current recipients can keep their status — can stay, as advocates refer to it, “DACA-mented” forever without worry. Even the federal judge who struck down DACA in September recognized that these young immigrants have come to rely on the program. The country also relies on them.
The Washington Post