Rep. Scott Peters: Now Congress must act to protect dreamers
America is founded on the promise that if you work hard and play by the rules then you will have a fair shot at making a better life.
That’s the American Dream. There’s no reason this opportunity should not extend to young immigrants brought here as children who know no other home. President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program was cruel and rooted in fear and will weaken our economy.
Since 2001, Congress has wrestled with how to treat immigrants brought here from other nations as young children without legal permission. Even the most anti-immigration Americans recognize that dreamers themselves have done nothing wrong and that they know no home but the United States. The overwhelming majority of us think it’s wrong to deport them. Congress came close to a fix in 2010, and again in 2013, with comprehensive immigration reform that would have increased border security, helped supplement our workforce where there were shortages, and created an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — including dreamers. The bill passed the Senate with a 68 percent, bipartisan vote. I was eager to vote yes, but never got the chance; Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, blocked the bill from coming to the House for a vote.
Faced with this legislative failure, President Barack Obama did the only thing he could to help dreamers. He created DACA via executive order. It wasn’t a free ride. DACA recipients had to have been brought to the United States before June 2007, either have a high school degree or be pursuing one, or have completed military service. They also need a clean criminal record. If they met those requirements, they could pay nearly $500 to apply for a two-year protection and work permit.
Before DACA, dreamers had no way to get right with the law. In many cases, they couldn’t apply for citizenship or even a work permit. After all this time, they still feared being deported.
San Diego has the seventh-highest DACA-eligible population of any county in America. Here, there are an estimated 38,000 individuals who were either eligible for DACA, or would have been upon meeting the education or age requirements. (DACA ceased taking new applications after the announcement earlier this month.)
Dreamers are our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers. They are San Diegans working toward their own American dream. Many dreamers are getting a college degree, even though they don’t qualify for federal financial aid. DACA recipients pay taxes, even toward benefits for which they themselves are not eligible.
Dreamers are driving our economy. Many work in our labs and at startups. Others are teachers and home health care workers. Dreamers have patients, clients, students and employers who count on them. The Center for American Progress estimates that removing dreamers from the workforce would cost California’s economy $11.3 billion per year — the most of any state. And the Immigration Legal Resource Center estimates that removing them will cost business owners across the country $3.4 billion in termination and replacement costs. This a moral and economic catastrophe that requires an urgent fix.
The clearest path forward is to pass the Dream Act, which I co-sponsor. It would grant dreamers immediate protections from deportation; allow them to apply for green cards if they go to college, work for three years or serve in the military; and provide an earned pathway to citizenship.
It has support from Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress, and from groups across the political spectrum. It is backed by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and by Alliance San Diego and the San Diego LGBT Center, which were among 187 civil and human rights groups that signed a letter urging its passage. Microsoft, which has renewed its urgent call to pass the Dream Act, even went so far as to say that it’s a higher priority than corporate tax reform.
That’s good. Because it will take bipartisan leadership and public and business support to move an inert Congress and a misguided president. There is an obsession in D.C. with deal-making: What do I get for passing this, or voting for that? I’ll tell you what you get for passing the Dream Act. You get more than a million determined, hardworking young people who will continue to make this country stronger and more prosperous. For our dealmaker of a president, that seems an obvious win. Now it’s time for Congress to send it to his desk.
Peters, D-San Diego, represents California’s 52nd Congressional District.