‘Dreamers’ need a new way to permanent legal status

Supporters of freeing detained Dreamer Daniel Ramirez Medina rally Friday, Feb. 17 in front of the federal courthouse in Seattle. Ramirez is being held at the Northwest Detention Center.
Supporters of freeing detained Dreamer Daniel Ramirez Medina rally Friday, Feb. 17 in front of the federal courthouse in Seattle. Ramirez is being held at the Northwest Detention Center. TNS

I grew up in a home where we didn’t lock our doors. My childhood home was also a place where community people were always gathering. The message I learned from those unlocked and open doors was that at my house all were welcome. Now, as a pastor, and after 24 years at Pullen Church, I look to create that same spirit of unlocked and open doors for others where all are welcome, like the more than 750,000 children who are a part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and now live under threat of deportation.

These children, known affectionately as “Dreamers,” were brought to this country at a young age by parents desperate for a better life. Under DACA, which was created through an executive order in 2012 by President Obama, these Dreamers have found temporary legal status and relief from deportation. For both the moral and financial health of our nation, the new president and Congress must find a way to let the Dreamers stay.

If President Trump follows through on his campaign promise to end DACA, it is essential that he and the Republican-led Congress immediately create a new program to give Dreamers the same or similar legal status protections. Thankfully, both the President and Republican leaders in Congress have signaled their support for creating such a new program through the bi-partisan BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) Act, recently proposed by Senator Lindsay Graham. This should open the door for other Republicans to support the measure since most in the GOP objected to the method of implementing DACA, not its intent.

Regardless of your opinion on how DACA was birthed, most people agree that the program itself has been a success. Since the program’s initiation in 2012, almost a million young people have voluntarily come out of the shadows to participate. To qualify, these Dreamers must prove their long-standing residency in the United States, conform to certain age restrictions, and undergo thorough criminal and terrorist background checks to make sure they are not a threat to the nation or the American people.

What’s truly heartbreaking about the whole situation is that these Dreamers have known no other home than the United States. They consider themselves Americans in everything but name. To strip them from their homes and deport them to an unfamiliar land is both morally wrong and economically short-sighted. Because of DACA, which created the means for these individuals to legally live and work, they have since been able to openly participate in and contribute to our economy and society. Their contributions have been significant—and their removal would be disastrous to an economy just beginning to pick up momentum, and longs for an infusion of youthful workers.

Nearly 90 percent of DACA recipients are employed. If the program is ended without a corresponding replacement, about 700,000 people—who generally earn higher wages than other undocumented workers—would be immediately ineligible to legally participate in the workforce.

By depleting our workforce, the pool of U.S. consumers, and tax base, a DACA repeal would devastate our growth prospects, cause the unemployment rate to skyrocket, and remove more than $400 billion from the U.S. economy over the next decade. Meanwhile, absent a replacement program, significant federal resources that could be used to fight actual criminals and terrorists would be unnecessarily diverted to tracking down and deporting law-abiding, productive members of our society.

The United States is better than breaking our promise to Dreamers, who came out of the shadows in good faith, expecting the same from the U.S. government. Our new President and Congress must act now to shield these innocent, hardworking kids while our Senators and Representatives work to finally fix our broken immigration system. How we go on to treat these children is a question of moral character for our country as much as it is an economic one. It is essential that we make the right moral choice and open the door for Dreamers to stay.

The Rev. Nancy E. Petty is pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh.