Fifteen years ago Senator Dick Durbin introduced the DREAM Act in the United States Senate. This legislation provided a path to citizenship for young people brought to the United States as children. DREAMers don’t like this characterization because it is a dig at their parents.
These young people call themselves DREAMers. And they are as American as me or any other member of the Senate.
In 2010, the DREAM Act passed the House and came to the Senate for a vote. Sadly, Republicans killed the bill – eliminating the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of DREAMers.[pullquote]I urge the next Administration: Don’t put almost 800,000 young people back in the shadows where they are afraid.[/pullquote]
Because Republicans refused to act, it was up to President Obama.
In 2011, I joined 21 other senators in asking President Obama to grant deferred action to immigrant youth who would have qualified under the DREAM Act and who are not an enforcement priority. In 2012, President Obama’s administration acted. They announced that young people who were brought to the United States as children could apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – also known as DACA.
This brought nearly 800,000 young people out of the shadows. These young men and women are our newest college students, teachers, engineers and small business owners. They contribute to our communities and make America better. In Nevada alone, DACA has helped over 12,000 DREAMers. DREAMers like Brenda Romero. Brenda was just two years old when she crossed the border with her mother to reunite with members of their family. Growing up in Las Vegas, Brenda was like any other American kid. She excelled in school. She was active in student government and orchestra.
It wasn’t until she and her friends were pursuing drivers’ licenses and college opportunities that Brenda understood what it meant to be undocumented. Brenda couldn’t legally work, so she couldn’t afford to pay for college. She was devastated.
Brenda described the months after graduating high school as one of the lowest points in her life. But that all changed with DACA. Brenda got a job. She was able to pay her way at the College of Southern Nevada. Brenda became student body president, working to help other students with similar struggles.
Brenda graduated with an associate’s degree in art in May and is now studying human services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As part of the Undocu-network Club at UNLV, Brenda is helping to bring counseling and services to students in need and promoting visibility for undocumented students to the school administration.
Brenda’s story is impressive, but it is not unique. Every senator has a story to tell like Brenda’s because DACA recipients are in all 50 states.
In addition to the moral reasons for supporting DACA, there are strong economic reasons. DACA recipients will add $433 billion to the economy over 10 years. It’s not surprising that the majority of Americans – almost 60 percent – oppose repeal of DACA As with Brenda, DACA has opened doors of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of young people.
We hoped that it would be a stop-gap measure until we passed immigration reform. The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill but the House refused to bring it to a vote. And with the outcome of the election it isn’t likely that comprehensive immigration reform will happen over the next four years. That is why it is so important for the next administration to continue this vital program.
For Brenda and hundreds of thousands like her, losing DACA status means being adrift in the only country she calls home. I urge the next Administration: Don’t put almost 800,000 young people back in the shadows where they are afraid. Don’t force hundreds of thousands of DREAMers to lose their jobs. And don’t squander the huge economic benefits to this country.
If Republicans want to do something, then they should pass the DREAM Act.
Harry Reid is a Nevada Senator.
- Next Administration Must Continue Protecting DREAMers - December 8, 2016