Editor’s Note: Fernand Fernandez is the interim president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest Hispanic business association. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Last September, when President Trump moved to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Congress was given until March 5 to pass a permanent, legislative solution. This week, that deadline passed. Were it not for a federal judge’s ruling that the program must at least temporarily continue, 800,000 DACA recipients would be at risk of deportation.
Though the termination of DACA has been delayed by the federal court, the legal stability of DACA status is not guaranteed. The ruling that is protecting DACA recipients could be overturned by an appeal process, just as the executive order that created the program was subsequently overturned with a change in presidential administration. In order to permanently secure the legal status of Dreamers, DACA or a similar act must be enacted as law.
Our leaders in Congress have an excellent opportunity to pass a bipartisan solution that has the overwhelming support of the American public. In fact, a poll last September by ABC/Washington Post shows that 86% of Americans want Dreamers to stay. Instead of wrongfully conflating the fate of Dreamers with totally separate issues such as national security, our elected officials should be jumping at the chance to create substantive, meaningful change just before the 2018 midterm elections.
DACA has long been framed as a humanitarian issue. The moral case is clear. The individuals who immigrated to the United States as children did not intentionally violate immigration law and should not be punished for the actions of their parents. They have grown up in American schools, pledged allegiance to the American flag and are contributing to the American workforce. The United States is the only home they know.
At the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, we recognize that DACA is also an economic issue. The contributions of Dreamers to our economy cannot be overstated. They contribute over $40 billion each year to our gross domestic product (GDP), according to a report from the American Action Forum.
DACA-eligible immigrants pay $2 billion each year in state and local taxes, according to a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. One study indicates that 97% of DACA recipients are in school or employed.
America depends on Dreamers, many of whom give back to their communities. Approximately 9,000 DACA recipients are serving as teachers. An additional 14,000 work in health care services. To threaten the legal status of DACA recipients is not only a disservice to the individuals contributing to our economy and society, but also to the greater United States.
The state of Arizona, for example, has approximately 27,000 DACA recipients. If Arizona’s DACA recipients were forced to leave, the state’s GDP would drop by $1.3 billion. If Texas’s 124,300 DACA recipients were deported, Texas GDP would drop by nearly $6.3 billion. California – the state with the largest DACA population of 222,795 –would suffer a GDP loss of over $11 billion without its DACA recipients.
A DACA solution is the path forward for a prosperous American future. While March 5 no longer marks the official end of DACA, it should remain a call to action for the White House and members of Congress. We ask that our leaders in government save the partisan fighting for actual partisan issues and take this opportunity to show the American people that our elected officials are willing to come together to craft legislation that supports the shared interests of all Americans.
This is a crucial moment for Washington – a chance to demonstrate to the American people that our government still works and that our leaders can still lead.
But, most importantly, this is a crucial moment for Dreamers, the bright, young individuals who do not wish to live in the shadows. Their futures rest in the hands of our elected officials, and we ask that they be granted the security to permanently live, work and learn in the United States – their only home.