A looming disaster is brewing, yet not enough people are talking about it and Congress is failing to act.
I’m referring to the crisis facing Dreamers, or Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA) recipients, who contribute to our economy and are critical community members. Despite living most of their lives in the U.S. after coming here as children with their families, and earning the ability to legally work and study in the U.S. through DACA, their futures and contributions to our country are in jeopardy.
The DACA program has protected these young immigrants from deportation since 2012. This consists of nearly 700,000 DACA recipients nationwide, including more than 4,600 in Pennsylvania, who have come forward, completed an application, paid the associated fees, and undergone thorough background checks to be approved for the program. They’re also required to repeat this process and renew their status every two years. As a result, the program has benefited Dreamers, their families, our communities, and the economy they contribute to.
Despite these benefits, the Trump administration rescinded the program in September 2017 — a decision followed by multiple federal court injunctions keeping existing protections in place. A case regarding the legality of the administration’s decision is now with the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments around the program last November. They are expected to make a decision anytime between now and June determining the fate the 700,00 young immigrants DACA shields from deportation.
Should the Supreme Court rule against DACA without a congressional fix in place, the ripple effects will be felt far beyond the Dreamers it protects.
On an annual basis, DACA recipients contribute an estimated $42 billion in GDP and nearly $9 billion in combined state, local, and federal taxes. Dreamers are home and car owners, and fill critical skills gaps across the country. They’re our students, teachers, the parishioner next to us on Sunday, the first responder, lawyer, and nurse we rely on, and so much more.
Polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of Americans support creating a pathway to citizenship for them — on both sides of the aisle. This is because Americans not only recognize that this is the right, moral thing to do, but that Dreamers contribute to the success of U.S. companies, that 6% have started their own businesses and employ native-born citizens, and that they are indeed American every way but on paper. I can especially appreciate the bipartisan support for this program as a former U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, who as a Republican often sought to work across the aisle.
Last June, the House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act to codify DACA protections into law and provide a pathway to citizenship. A solution in the Senate has stalled over partisan tit-for-tat. The Senate needs to focus on passing this narrow legislation and send it to the president’s desk — soon.
Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules or who wins the presidential election in November, a permanent legislative solution is still critical for Dreamers whose lives have been in limbo far too long.
If DACA protections are terminated before a legislative solution is in place, an average of 6,000 DACA recipients — who are work colleagues, business owners, students, parents, loved ones and more — will lose their deportation protections per week. They will be stripped from the workforce and their homes.
Concerningly, when he reviewed the case in November, Chief Justice John Roberts operated under the notion that Dreamers would not be deported even if the Supreme Court terminated the program. Yet regarding Dreamers’ future, acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said in January: “Those individuals may have DACA, but that doesn’t prevent us from going through the removal process,” he said. “If they get ordered removed, and DACA is done away with by the Supreme Court, we can actually effectuate those removal orders.”
The U.S. has never given temporary legal status through a program like this, then revoked it. We should not start now. Congressional change should be enacted, as failure to protect Dreamers is not only immoral, but also a bad political and economic decision.
Congress urgently needs to address this issue before the Supreme Court determines Dreamers’ fate and unleashes the negative consequences of a DACA repeal.