Déjà vu: Dream Act legislation is back

Legislation to allow Dreamers to become permanent citizens was introduced in both houses of Congress — once again earlier this year. And once again, American industry is calling on lawmakers to finally pass this critical measure.

Year after year for the past two decades, lawmakers have failed to agree on immigration reform. Dreamers, who were brought here as undocumented children, are stuck in a legal limbo between some sort of permanent legal status and being subject to deportation.

A coalition of the nation’s largest corporations and trade associations are saying “enough is enough.” More than 100 top CEOs from the Coalition for the American Dream are pressing Congress to finally act.

“[If passed] it would be the most positive development in immigration with this administration, certainly,” said Adam Estle, director of field and constituencies of the National Immigration Forum. “It would be a huge boost for our economy, it would be a huge boost to our communities as these young people would have the opportunity to plan the rest of their lives as Americans.”

Failing to address this issue and removing over 800,000 Dreamers from the workforce would inflict serious harm on U.S. companies, workers and the economy, they said in a letter to Congress and a full-page ad in the New York Times.

“Studies by economists across the ideological spectrum have determined that if Congress fails to act, our economy could lose $350 billion in GDP, and the federal government could lose $90 billion in tax revenue,” the letter states. “Thus, continued delay or inaction will cause significant negative economic and social impact to businesses and hundreds of thousands of deserving young people across the country.”

Top CEOs support Dreamer protections

More than 100 top CEOs signed the letter, including Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Brad Smith, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Starbucks’ Kevin Johnson, Lyft’s John Zimmer, Target’s Brian Cornell, Walmart’s Doug McMillon, Expedia’s Barry Diller, and IBM’s Ginni Rometty.

Major trade associations that signed the letter include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation, National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

A program established by the Obama administration called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) shielded Dreamers from deportation. That program was targeted for elimination by President Trump, but the issue is winding its way through the courts, protecting Dreamers from deportation for the time being.

If Congress does not act, it could go before the U.S. Supreme Court next year.

The Dream Act is back

Both houses in the U.S. Congress introduced bills in the past month to provide pathways to citizenship for Dreamers and other foreign workers and students.

  • ​In the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the Dream Act of 2019. The act would allow DACA recipients to stay permanently in the U.S. if they came here as children, graduated from high school or obtained a GED, and pursued college, military service, or at least three years of employment.
  • In the House, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California) introduced the Dream and Promise Act. It provides permanent legal status for DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients.

Who are Dreamers?

Currently, almost 700,000 young adults are enrolled in DACA. Recipients can receive a renewable two-year period of delayed deportation and eligibility to work. They cannot have felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records.

At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ Dreamers including IBM, Walmart, Apple, General Motors, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot and Wells Fargo.

In Arizona, they are an important workforce for many industries: health and social services, hospitality, professional services, food service, retail trade, and construction.

Can Congress get it done this time?

It would be a monumental accomplishment if Congress finally passes the Dream Act.

Then, the biggest hurdle could be the president. President Donald Trump has alternated from vowing to eliminate DACA to using it unsuccessfully as a bargaining chip to obtain more funding for border security.

“We’re concerned about how this failed a year ago, that the Administration tried to pile a lot of other things to the legislation that just sunk it,” Estle said. “So we’re hopeful that they won’t try and cut legal immigration or any of the things they tried last time around, too.”

It’s unclear what he would do if a Dreamer bill lands on his desk. If he vetoes it, Congress is the only other avenue. If both houses can gain a ⅔ majority in a revote, they could override the president.

“We’re hopeful,” Estle said. “The Dream and Promise Act is certain to pass the House and I think the big question is less about how many in the people in the Senate will support it and more about what’s the motivating factor for Leader McConnell to allow it to be voted on.”

Victoria Harker

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