Letter To The Editor: DREAM Act Should Replace DACA

DACA Hunger Strike safe schools
Cendi Trujillo Tena, a recent graduate of Cardinal Stritch College, speaks as about three dozen people from Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Racine counties protest the possible elimination by President Donald J. Trump of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, on Monument Square in downtown Racine Saturday September 2, 2017. Six of the attendees are students or recent graduates who are participating in a hunger strike which began Friday and will end Tuesday evening when they march to the Racine Unified School District headquarters. / (c) Mark Hertzberg for Racine County Eye

Earlier this month after President Donald Trump repealed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, House Speaker Paul Ryan appropriately used his leadership position to call for swift Congressional action in response. He has pledged to find a consensus plan that will keep these young people, who were brought here illegally by their parents through no fault of their own, in our communities.  I support Speaker Ryan’s efforts. They are especially important given the fact that DACA will come to an end in March.

One option available to Speaker Ryan is the Senate’s bipartisan DREAM Act. This bill would eventually allow Dreamers the chance to stay in the United States permanently, but only if they can first pay a fee, pass rigorous security and law enforcement background checks, and prove they know English and U.S. history. Dreamers would also have to graduate from high school and pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years, or serve in our military.

Conservative lawmakers have said they’re working on alternative legislation that could be combined with increased funding for border security efforts. Speaker Ryan should have several options to work with, but he cannot do this alone. Republicans need to come together to support our speaker and I hope Democrats will seek consensus as well.

While some immigration opponents have argued that the Dreamers siphon jobs away from native-born Americans, this is certainly not the case—there isn’t one study that supports that conclusion. The libertarian Niskanen Center, meanwhile, estimates the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, a Republican-sponsored bill in the House that is similar to the DREAM Act, would expand Wisconsin’s economy by $6 billion over ten years.

In fact, letting DACA end without a legislative solution would actually harm Wisconsin employers. Ninety percent of DACA recipients are currently employed, the rest are in school on enlisted in the U.S. military. If DACA ends and Congress hasn’t found a solution for Dreamers, these young people would lose their jobs. It’s not easy to replace reliable employees – particularly in Wisconsin’s important manufacturing and dairy industries.  In fact, businesses nationwide would face about $3.4 billion in turnover costs.  Because they are working, DACA recipients also are paying taxes. Our state and local revenue base would be about $18 million lighter if these Dreamers lose their jobs.

Speaker Ryan is trying to help our economy. He’s also simply trying to do the right thing.

DACA recipients today volunteer an immense amount of information to the government, trusting in the opportunity that will result from their acceptance under the program, whether pursuing lawful work or education. If Congress doesn’t act, the federal government could use that information to find and deport these young people to countries they do not know or remember. President Trump said DACA recipients don’t have anything to worry about. I hope his administration keeps that promise. The government should not be permitted to use personal information, which was voluntarily provided, against these now young adults.

Speaker Ryan has argued that we should protect the Dreamers because they “were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home.”  I read a story of a DACA recipient who came here when she was just three years old.   It’s obvious the Speaker is right: this young woman knows no other home. She’s like most Dreamers. The current average age of a DACA recipient is 25. The average age these young people were when they first arrived in the United States is not even seven. We cannot deport individuals who’ve been here since kindergarten and whose homelands are no more than faded memories. We can punish these young people for doing nothing but following their parents into our great nation.

This issue was always one for Congress to solve. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was never a permanent solution. President Trump has given lawmakers six months to do so. Let’s get to work.