OP-ED: Protecting DACA Recipients Benefits America

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The following is a guest post by Lindsay Marchello.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government will cease enforcement of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy within six months. However, for most immigrants eligible for the program — better known as “DREAMers” — this Thursday is the real deadline to stay in the country.

All new DACA applicants and those with renewal applications set to expire on March 5, 2018 have until October 5 to submit their paperwork. After the deadline, no more applications will be accepted unless the deadline is extended or the program is saved. The clock is ticking for legislators to take action.

As hardworking guests of our country, America’s DREAMers should not have to live in the shadows. North Carolina’s congressmen, particularly Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, should support a permanent fix to inscribe a DACA-like program into law.

To be eligible for DACA, applicants must have been brought to the United States as minors, be pursuing an education, have graduated from high school, be currently serving in the military or have been honorably discharged. DREAMers are neither the perfect overachievers that some supporters paint them as, nor are they criminals who are stealing jobs from native-born citizens. These young undocumented people are simply striving for the same opportunities available for every American.

Since 2012, nearly 800,000 have been allowed to stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation. For many, this is the only home they have ever known. North Carolina has roughly 27,000 DACA-eligible residents, according to a March federal report.

The Trump administration’s reasoning for rescinding DACA is varied, with Sessions citing economic and national security concerns as justification. “The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences,” Sessions said in his announcement. “It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”

To the contrary, DREAMers are among the most law-abiding people in the United States. Applicants to the program are vetted before they can be accepted. Those chosen are less likely to end up in prison compared to their native born counterparts. In 2015, DREAMers had an incarceration rate of 0.98 percent compared to a native-born incarceration rate of 1.12 percent, according to the Cato Institute.

DREAMers by and large are not criminals and do not have a negative impact on the economy. Some critics argue they are a drain on taxpayer dollars, but DACA recipients are not eligible for means-tested federal benefits. In many ways, DREAMers are model Americans, as their status is contingent on being enrolled in high school, college, or enlisted in the military.

A 2014 report from the American Immigration Council found nearly 60 percent of DACA recipients surveyed obtained a job and 45 percent have seen a wage increase. Increased earnings and higher job numbers correlate to an increase in the tax base, suggesting that DACA recipients have a positive impact on the economy.

Moreover, deporting America’s DREAMers would be extremely expensive. Cato projects the cost to be $60 billion, along with a $280 billion dent in economic growth over the next decade. It’s clear from a fiscal standpoint that a permanent legislative solution is desperately needed.

Congress has continually failed to pass the DREAM Act, a bill which would have protected young immigrants from deportation, since it first appeared in 2001. In 2010, the bill passed in the House of Representatives but ultimately failed in the Senate. President Obama took executive action two years later and started the DACA program.

The SUCCED Act is one way to resolve the issue. Introduced last month by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), SUCCEED offers similar protections as DACA for a five-year period.

Sens. Tillis and Burr must not let North Carolina’s DREAMers down. They are not the border-hopping criminals that some in the media would have you believe. They are hardworking people looking for a shot at the American dream, like us all. It is in the country’s interest to protect these young immigrants who help the economy flourish.

Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Advocate and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal. Follow her on Twitter @LynnMarch007.

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