As a researcher and educator who studies migration, I’ve interviewed many young adults who were brought to the United States as undocumented children. I can tell you that these hardworking and resilient young people, often known as Dreamers, deeply love this country and are eager to realize their God-given potential. Many go on to college, sometimes hold multiple jobs, and purchase homes in our communities to create a better life for themselves and their families, like generations of immigrants before them.
Yet in September 2017, President Donald Trump plunged their lives into chaos when he announced he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gave 800,000 Dreamers the chance to work, get a driver’s license, and finally put down roots without worrying about being deported.
After witnessing how this program empowered them to come out of the shadows, it is deeply troubling that these remarkable young people are now under so much stress and anxiety. That’s why the Jesuit Social Research Institute of Loyola University New Orleans strongly supports a new bill that the House of Representatives approved this week. Called the Dream and Promise Act, it would provide a pathway to citizenship for the more than 1.3 million DACA-eligible people in the United States — including 8,000 Dreamers here in Louisiana.
Such legislation would not only provide permanent legal protections for Dreamers, it would also protect another group that’s rarely mentioned in the DACA debate: their estimated 200,000 children who were born on U.S. soil and are U.S. citizens. Last summer, Americans were rightly outraged at the separation of children from their parents at the border. However, children of Dreamers could suffer the same cruel fated if legislation like the Dream and Promise Act is not passed. The threat of being permanently banished through deportation from their children’s lives looms large in local Dreamer parents’ lives. Between 2016 and 2017, the deportation of immigrants without criminal charges skyrocketed over 100 percent in the New Orleans ICE district, causing untold heartache and hardship for the children left behind.
There are strong economic arguments to pass the Dream and Promise Act as well. DACA-eligible immigrants earn $23.4 billion in annual income, $4 billion of which they pay in state, local and federal taxes. Additionally, 43,115 DACA-eligible immigrants are entrepreneurs, creating jobs and adding much-needed services for all Americans.
What’s more, the vast majority of Americans, including Republican voters, support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. And yet, this administration has forced these young immigrants to live in limbo for nearly two years now. A Loyola Dreamer recently told me that the uncertainty over DACA and the lack of progress in Congress to come up with a permanent solution has taken a tremendous emotional toll on her. She’s experienced symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, like fear, anxiety, and insomnia. As someone who went through the American school system and learned about the American ideals of justice, equality, and fairness, it’s been hard for her to reconcile the country that taught her those values with the one that is currently inflicting unnecessary pain.
Dreamers are Americans in every way except on paper. That’s why we’re urging our U.S. senators to vote “yes” on the Dream and Promise Act that would simply allow immigrants to continue to invest in this country and grow their roots. We have nothing to gain by sending them away at this point. But we — especially their 200,000 U.S. citizen children — have a lot to lose.
Sue Weishar is a migration specialist and fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.