June marked the fifth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Coinciding with this milestone, the Trump Administration indicated it would keep the program intact, preserving the protections it grants nearly 800,000 young immigrants — nearly 40,000 of whom live here in Florida.
Now, however, a small group of elected officials is making it its mission to undermine and unravel this vital program. For the good of our country, I sincerely hope President Donald Trump does not cave on this one. Instead, he should redouble efforts to permanently protect these hard-working young men and women from the growing specter of deportation.
DACA gives temporary relief from deportation so that qualifying applicants may study and seek employment, enabling them to make better lives for themselves and their families. The program enjoys broad public support, with 90 percent of Americans backing it—including 80 percent of Republicans. Why? Because it works, and more than that, because it taps into the spirit of what it means to be American.
Despite this, a group of 10 Republican state attorneys general and one governor sent the White House a letter in late June threatening to sue the administration if it fails to terminate the program by Tuesday. Whatever their motives, this move is seriously misguided. Not only does it go against everything we stand for as a country, but it risks jeopardizing our economic wellbeing just to score some political points by unraveling yet another of President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishments.
Qualified DACA recipients — also known as “DREAMers” — are integral members of our communities. They are students, doctors, nurses, teachers, business owners, and so much more. They can be found working in just about every sector of the American economy. To up and deport some 800,000 people from the workforce would eliminate upwards of $433 billion from our economy over a decade. In that same time, we would see contributions to Medicare and Social Security drop by nearly $25 billion.
I just can’t understand why anyone would feel the need to target Dreamers. These kids have already been through so much more than you or I just for the chance to live a normal life. To be eligible for the DACA program, they must have arrived in the country prior to their 16th birthday and must have lived here continuously since 2007. They also must pass intensive criminal background checks, which includes fingerprinting, and must stay out of serious legal trouble. They are more than thoroughly vetted and pose no threat to anyone.
The only threat here is the one these so-called elected officials are making over the Administration’s decision to do the humane thing and leave this program in place. Despite the President’s softening of his stance on this issue, DACA’s fate is now thrown into question again. On top of this new threat of legal action, we also have U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider. He has previously questioned the legality and constitutionality of DACA, and recently said that he welcomes states and localities putting pressure on the Administration regarding this issue. Does anyone truly believe he would defend the program if it went to the courts?
That’s why Trump should work with Congress to pass legislation that would permanently allow DREAMers to live and work in the United State like the DREAM Act. Until a legislative fix is passed into law, hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — many of whom can remember no other home but the United States — will be forced to live in the shadows, always worried for the day their country turns them away. That’s no way to live. I hope that Senator Rubio will cosponsor the DREAM Act and make protecting Dreamers a priority. These Floridians need our help and now is the time to act before it’s too late.
Editor’s note: Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and member of the FWD.us Florida coalition.