Editorial: Trump should continue Obama policy protecting 'Dreamers'

Dec 15, 2016 Issues: Immigration Reform

The Herald: Editorial: Trump should continue Obama policy protecting 'Dreamers' 

By The Herald Editorial Board 

It may speak to the level of uncertainty that some are feeling that about 35 Everett Community College students showed up on campus on a chilly day earlier this week — when classes weren’t in session — to talk with their Congressional representative and get his perspective on the next presidential administration.

Students meeting with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, the 2nd District Democrat, asked about Trump’s cabinet picks, particularly for the Department of Education; the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans; the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act; threatened retaliation against cities and colleges that declare themselves a place of sanctuary for undocumented immigrants and the fate of students and others living under the now-uncertain protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Larsen encouraged the students to organize and speak out on those issues, quoting a past senator who advised, “Politicians don’t see the light until the feel the heat.”

“The new administration needs to feel the heat,” Larsen told the students.

Some immediate heat on DACA would be a good start.

DACA is the executive action signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 that provides undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country at a young age temporary relief from deportation and the right to work. To be eligible, they must be in high school or have a diploma, be a veteran who has served honorably and not have been convicted of a felony or major misdemeanor.

Of an estimated 1.8 million immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 who are eligible, more than 740,000 have registered as DACA participants. But DACA’s protections, because they have not been made law by Congress, can be rescinded when President-elect Donald Trump takes office as easily as they were granted by Obama.

Trump’s stances on immigration issues in general and on DACA in particular have been difficult to pin down. Having won the Republican nomination and the presidential election on promises to build a “beautiful” wall and deport all 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants, Trump has since adjusted past statements. Maybe a fence in some segments of the border, rather than a wall. Maybe deport just the “bad hombres.”

His most recent statement on DACA, in his Person of the Year” interview with Time magazine seemed to at least show understanding for those protected by DACA: “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Minus a stronger commitment to their protection, Trump at least acknowledges basic truths about DACA immigrants, also called Dreamers after DREAM Act legislation that since 2001 has sought to make the protections part of immigration reform efforts.

The Dreamers were brought here as children, but they have thrived here and contributed as much as any American.

A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that 87 percent of those in the DACA program are employed; 46 percent are enrolled in post-secondary education, including 70 percent pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher, 20 percent seeking an associate’s degree and 4 percent seeking a vocational certification. Of those attending school, 83 percent are also employed.

Those investments in education are paying off as well for local economies: 21 percent have purchased a first vehicle, 12 percent have bought their first house, and 6 percent have started their own businesses, employing themselves and others. That entrepreneurial rate, by the way, is about double the 3.1 percent rate overall for Americans.

The Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges recently asked the president-elect to continue the DACA program. The letter, signed by board members and college presidents, including Everett Community College President David Beyer and Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez, made the case that the United State is the only home the youths have ever known. Many have become student leaders and are among the best students at their schools.

“Moreover,” the letter continues, “as taxpayers, we consider the enormous investment in their K-12 educations. There is no return on investment if we prevent them from entering or staying in our workforce. Many employers need bilingual and bicultural employees to help them compete globally.”

If not for the basic decency argument of protecting those who for all intents and purposes consider themselves Americans, the president-elect should embrace the economic logic in extending DACA.

And he would do well to extend the program and encourage the other estimated 1 million who are eligible to enroll to do so.

Between now and Jan. 20 when he is sworn into office, Trump could ease many minds with a clear statement of support and a promise to extend DACA.