The Hill (Op-Ed)
By Jeremy Neufeld
May 22, 2017
President Donald Trump recently insisted that Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children or young adults — should rest easy, and not fear deportation. But there is a troubling divergence between that position, the policies of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and the actions of immigration authorities nationwide. This unreliability in policy makes Dreamers the most vulnerable population in our immigration system today.
In recognition of the urgency of the issue, a group of pragmatic House Republicans proposed the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, which creates a rigorous but fair process to protect Dreamers who consistently contribute positively to our economy and society by working, studying, or serving in the military. Passing the RAC Act is the best way to ensure Dreamers are on a permanent, sound legal footing with a pathway to fully participating in American life.
Publicly claiming that the deportation of Dreamers is not a top priority is essentially meaningless in the wake of multiple Dreamer arrests and at least one deportation. Currently, no reliable policy on Dreamers exists, putting more than 1.3 million young adults and children at risk of deportation.
This is particularly troubling given the unique background of this population of undocumented individuals. They did not enter America illegally on their own accord; rather, they were brought to America by their parents or relatives.
In most cases, they have been in America for years. Most know of no other home but America, and for many, no other language but English. They are American in every way — except in immigration status.
The RAC Act would bring stability to this population. It provides legal status to young undocumented immigrants that work full-time, enroll in school, or serve in the military. Immigrants would only be eligible after a rigorous background check, including biometrics and a medical exam.
At the end of the five years, only those individuals who maintain a clean criminal record, avoid reliance on public assistance, pay back taxes with interest, and demonstrate continued employment, educational records, or proof of ongoing service or an honorable discharge, can apply to adjust their status to permanent residency.
It is worth noting that offering this vulnerable population legal status makes political and economic sense. First of all, it is wasteful for law enforcement to divert resources to deporting members of this population when they can focus their resources on those who are real threats to public safety or national security.
What’s more, in a recent study by University of Chicago, Professor Nolan Pope found that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — a prosecutorial discretion tool used to defer removal of eligible Dreamer applicants and provide work authorization — moved tens of thousands of young immigrants into the labor force. As a result, incomes rose, thereby increasing tax contributions and stimulating economic growth. Estimates put Dreamers’ economic contributions in the hundreds of billions of dollars over the next ten years.
In part, Republicans created and drafted the RAC Act as a contrast with the unilateral executive order President Obama used to create DACA, but also in response to growing public support for Dreamers.
A recent McClatchy-Marist poll shows that 83 percent of Americans favor a path to legal status for some undocumented immigrants; in fact, even most Trump supporters agree. When the specific question of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came into the U.S. as children was surveyed in 2014 by a bipartisan polling team, a whopping 81 percent of Republicans favored it.
In total, sixteen Republicans have co-sponsored the bill so far.
It is encouraging to see House Republicans thinking pragmatically about immigration reform. In the Senate, Republicans like Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) also indicated that their respective frameworks for immigration reform prioritize protecting Dreamers. The Republican Party understands that Dreamers deserve protection and play an important role in our country, and this legislation is proof that they are willing to stand up for this valuable population.
Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-F.L.), who introduced the RAC Act, said, “These are America’s children, and it’s about time that we accept them and that we give them that path to full American citizenship so they can fully participate and enjoy in the American experience.”
The RAC Act presents an opportunity for Republicans to prove their commitment to practical immigration reform. Doing so would align with the wishes of the majority of Republicans — despite what the headline-grabbing and vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric would have you think.
Jeremy Neufeld is an immigration policy fellow at the libertarian Niskanen Center.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
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