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Supporting Dreamers Supports Our Future

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News
Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the United States District Court in Houston, TX, sent tremors through the immigrant community when he ruled last week that former President Barack Obama exceeded his authority in creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

His ruling again makes the fate of these young immigrants and their families a political football and a source of deep anxiety. Will their families be ripped apart by forced deportation? How do they start businesses, careers, buy homes and start families with such uncertainty?

To the relief of Dreamers, the judge’s opinion stated that the federal government should not “take any immigration, deportation or criminal action” against recipients that it “would not otherwise take.” However, while the Department of Homeland Security will keep taking new applications for DACA status, it is temporarily blocked from approving them.

Dreamers are the children of illegal immigrants brought here by their parents. Many have known no other home. They attend our elementary schools, high schools and colleges. They serve in the military. They are nurses, teachers, welders, construction workers and engineers. They are neighbors and friends. They are essential to rural Minnesota’s growth and prosperity.

To qualify for the DACA program, applicants must have entered America before age 16, lived here continuously since June 2007, committed no crimes, finished high school or enlisted in the U.S. military.

There are an estimated 3.6 million young people eligible for Dreamer status. Still, only 653,000 have gone through the process required to become a recipient. The other 3 million have not applied for a variety of reasons, according to the National Immigration Forum. Some fear having their name on a list controlled by an unpredictable government.

Back in 2001, then Utah Republican Sen. Orin Hatch and Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin introduced the Dream Act to give children of immigrants conditional residency and an eventual path to citizenship. Despite Hatch’s support, too few of fellow Republicans backed him.

To protect Dreamers from deportation, President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2012 called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He hoped Congress would then act on a comprehensive immigration plan, or at least give Dreamers legal status.

Republicans opposed to DACA saw it as an end-run around the authority vested in Congress.

To further challenge the legality of the program, a group of states filed suit arguing they were left paying the bill for the education of Dreamers along with their health costs. Hanen didn’t side with their arguments but did rule that the Obama Administration failed to legally implement the program.

 “The executive branch cannot just enact its own legislative policy when it disagrees with Congress’s choice to reject proposed legislation,” he wrote.

Appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush, Hanen found Obama’s DACA program violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The act required the Obama Administration to gather comments from the general public before implementing the program. It failed to have a comment period, and “so DACA never gained status as a legally binding policy that could impose duties or obligations.”

The Biden Administration is expected to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, President Biden is seeking a more comprehensive immigration solution through Congress, though few hold out  hope for its success. Those frustrated with congressional inaction are pressing Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority to pass a bill.

A PEW Research Center survey found that 91% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favor granting legal status to Dreamers. While a majority of Republicans and Republican leaners also favor legal status, it is by a slim margin of 54%.

We should not be Republican or Democrat when it comes to supporting citizenship for Dreamers. We should be communities looking to see our school class sizes grow instead of fall. We should be businesses welcoming new customers rather than being boarded up. We should be industries encouraging replenishment of our labor force rather than looking to relocate or expanding elsewhere because of a labor shortage.

For decades, our death rates in rural Minnesota and our young people leaving for larger cities have meant falling populations. There will be no reversal of that trend without our support of immigrants coming to our communities.

An estimated 650,000 immigrants are enrolled in DACA, with nearly 6,500 in Minnesota. In America, in Minnesota, and in our local communities, Dreamers are in essential jobs in our assisted living facilities, hospitals, manufacturing, food processing, and agriculture. Without them, the stresses already at play because of unfilled jobs would be even greater.

While there are an estimated 3.5 potential Dreamers, more than 10.5 million immigrants here illegally are not covered by DACA. What to do about these non-Dreamers and those continuing to illegally cross the southern border complicates getting comprehensive immigration reform done in Congress. So does misinformation about immigrants.

In a column on the facts about immigrants, conservative columnist Bret Stephens wrote:

- Nonimmigrants ( people born here) are two to three times more likely to be incarcerated for a crime than illegal immigrants.

- Immigrants as a whole excel in high school and college.

- 83% of illegal immigrants identify themselves as Christian, while only 70.6 percent of Americans do.

- Immigrants, illegal and legal, are twice as likely to start a business than are second, third or fourth generation Americans.

“So how does America become great again by berating and evicting its most energetic, enterprising, law-abiding, job-creating, idea-generating, self-multiplying, and God-fearing people?” Stephens asks.

The immigrants show the same work ethic that our grandfathers and grandmothers showed when they arrived in America, a quality that appears to be fading among succeeding generations of our own citizens. America’s greatness comes from its immigrant heritage. To ensure future greatness, we must support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

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