Congress must act on a permanent DACA solution

ByDave Levin (op-ed)

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More than 8,500 people per week. That’s how many young immigrants are projected to lose their right to work and study in this country before the 2018 election if Congress doesn’t take legislative action by March 5. Eventually, nearly 800,000 immigrants – almost the entire population of Charlotte, N.C. – could not only be prevented from working but also be subject to deportation.

Who are the immigrants facing this tenuous future? They are ‘Dreamers,’ young people who came to this country as children and have been granted temporary protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. For Dreamers, who have spent years living and working in the only country most of them have ever known, the future is filled with uncertainty.

As the co-founder of KIPP, the nation’s largest network of public charter schools with schools in New York City and 20 states, this is personal to me, as many Dreamers are KIPP students, teachers, staff, and alumni. That’s why the fear and insecurity that Dreamers feel in facing this deadline keeps me awake at night.

At KIPP, we have watched Dreamers work hard to earn high school diplomas and supported them during the difficult process of securing legal status under DACA, including the rigorous, required background checks. And once they became Dreamers, we saw how gaining two-year access to a Social Security card and work permit has allowed them to both pursue professional careers and succeed in college.

But now Dreamers in college may see all their hard work and effort come to end. Without action in Congress to forge a bipartisan solution, Dreamers have no idea if they will be able to graduate from college, or if they will be subjected to deportation.

Dreamers who have graduated from college and are employed in a variety of careers – as business consultants, technology programmers, teachers, and nurses – are all similarly fearful of what will happen come March 2018. Will they continue working, paying taxes, and contributing to the economy, or will they be forced to relocate to countries they have never lived in as adults?

The Dreamers are a driver of the U.S. economy, through both their consumer spending and the billions of dollars in federal, state, and local taxes they pay each year. Many Dreamers have purchased homes, supported families, joined churches, and put down roots in neighborhoods. In fact, new estimates show that by creating an earned pathway to citizenship through a new Dream Act, we could add as much as $1 trillion to the national GDP over a decade.

If we can’t find a solution to keep Dreamers, their departure will leave a hole here in New York City and in 19 other metropolitan areas across the country. And no family or community lives in an economic vacuum. As we know too well from the housing crash, our fates are inextricably linked.

No matter what our political affiliations may be, as Americans we can all agree on the importance of economic growth and prosperous communities. And beyond the financial impact, we can also recognize the enormous emotional cost of what could happen to Dreamers. Imagine that it is a someone you know and love who is a Dreamer, who was brought to America at the average age of five, has known no other home, and cleared all the considerable hurdles required to be part of DACA. Despite doing all the right things, he or she is now facing deportation. Is this how we want our country to operate?

Since our founding over two decades ago, KIPP has made a promise that we will help all children who enroll in KIPP schools to reach their highest potential, regardless of immigration status. And while KIPP’s mission is to help all of our students get to and through college, we must now engage beyond our school walls to make sure our Dreamers can reach the goals they have strived tirelessly to achieve.

That’s why we are speaking up and advocating to Congress to find a permanent, bipartisan solution for Dreamers now. We were heartened to see 34 Republican House members sign a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Dec. 5 in support of both parties working together to pass a legislative solution for Dreamers by year’s end.

Because if Congress fails to act now, it is not just Dreamers who will suffer on March 5 – what happens to them will impact all of us.

Dave Levin is the co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).