This June, we recognized the 10-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that was established as a temporary solution to a longer-term problem facing our nation’s immigration system: how to create a pathway to citizenship for young children who came to the U.S. with their families. Even though we celebrated all the benefits of this policy to immigrants, families, and our entire state, our lawmakers must not let another year pass without a permanent legislative solution for DACA recipients and all Dreamers.
Since its inception, DACA has provided temporary deportation relief and work authorizations to more than 700,000 immigrants who arrived at the average age of six years old and has impacted the lives of nearly 20,000 immigrants here in Georgia. Throughout my work with Path United – an organization my wife and I founded to provide youth throughout our community with resources to achieve their dreams – we have been blessed to help guide DACA recipients so they can tap into their unique talents and skills to propel themselves down a pathway of success.
In 2011, I met a young man named Emmanuel who had recently begun attending our after-school programs at Path United. When Emmanuel was six-years-old, his parents brought him to the U.S. from Mexico. As I got to know Emmanuel, I quickly realized he was a smart, honest and talented. He was an excellent soccer player in high school, and one of my favorite memories is seeing his parents on the field with him at Senior Night.
DACA, while only one tool of many, significantly changed his life and that of thousands of other immigrant students by giving them similar opportunities to create their own story. At the end of the day, however, it does not equip recipients with a permanent pathway to citizenship. Further, the adhesive bond of this patchwork solution is weakening.
Ongoing litigation is putting these already at-risk individuals under even more uncertainty. Today, many of us are anxiously awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which is hearing oral arguments in the State of Texas v. United States on July 6th and is expected to be handed down in the fall that could end DACA altogether. A decade of congressional inaction also jeopardizes the next generation of immigrant youth. Today, it’s estimated that a majority of the 100,000 undocumented high school graduates this year are ineligible for DACA since they arrived after June 15, 2007.
We need a solution, and fast because with my experience working with students, I’ve seen firsthand how legal certainty can mitigate the fear so that these students can excel in school and contribute to our community’s overall well-being.
While state lawmakers here in Georgia are working to move the needle on tuition equity legislation that would ease the financial burden for immigrant youth by allowing them to access in-state tuition, we just aren’t there yet. The financial burden for the young man we worked with, Emmanuel, was too much to overcome, so he opted out of his long-time dream of attending Gwinnett Tech. Emmanuel has gone on to become a small business owner and most DACA recipients in Georgia work, pay taxes, and are a positive members of our community, however, access to certainty will help Georgia immigrants go above and beyond.
Today, Congress has a bipartisan solution, the Dream Act, at their fingertips, but efforts to get pass this bill have stalled. Not only is this impacting the immigrant community but failing to support Dreamers is impacting our economy.
Reports show that failing to pass state policies like tuition equity means we are forfeiting as much as $10 million in economic gains each year. They hold up our economy and are the backbone of our workforce, considering 94%
of the DACA-eligible population is in the labor force, according to New American Economy, and contributes $181.2 million
in state, local and federal taxes annually.
Dreamers have built their lives here in the U.S. They have friends and families, and contribute to their local communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they were among the essential workers who put their lives on the line in essential industries – including 5,600 DACA recipients.
The American Dream has inspired generations to come to our country and prosper. While the American Dream may look different today, the idea still resonates. DACA has given many people the chance to experience that dream for themselves. We have a responsibility to make it possible for them to continue their lives and earn a pathway to citizenship. It is my hope that our leaders will do just that.