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ACT Urges Congress to Maintain the DACA Program

Last week, ACT was invited to be a co-signer on several letters to President Trump urging his administration to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program alive. ACT quickly and enthusiastically signed those letters. That’s because our mission always has been to help individuals achieve education and workplace success, and providing immigrant students with new and expanded access to education and workforce opportunities certainly helps fulfill that mission.

While the attention has been on the White House and how the Trump administration would deal with the DACA issue (and as of 10 a.m. today how Congress will engage on the issue), the real question that I hear few asking is: Why are attorneys general in 10 states motivated to pressure the administration into reversing the current DACA initiative? The short answer seems to be: politics.

Enacted under President Obama, DACA allows immigrants who came to the US before turning 16 years old to apply for temporary but renewable protection from deportation, provided they pass a background check and meet certain requirements. To qualify, they must be enrolled in, or graduated from, a US High School; have earned a GED; or be an honorably discharged veteran of the US Armed Forces.

So far, nearly 800,000 young people have done just that—and many of them have thrived, as Miriam Jordan’s August 27 New York Times article points out. Many have put on the uniform of the United States Military. Many have gone to college or technical training programs and are actively serving their communities and this country in ways they likely never dreamed possible.

At the same time, DACA has become a lightning rod for immigration hawks, who view Obama’s enactment of DACA as executive overreach. As Attorney General Sessions said this morning, “The Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach," and then went on to say, “enforcing the (immigration) law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering.” Really? The numbers don’t seem to support the Attorney General's assertion.

According to a 2014 report of the American Immigration Council, DACA has resulted in countless students obtaining educational benefits that have led to better jobs and higher earnings. What’s wrong with 60% of DACA beneficiaries obtaining a new job and 45% of them increasing their earnings? What’s wrong with 57% obtaining a driver’s license and, thus, widening their education and employment opportunities? What’s the problem with 49% opening their first bank account or 21% obtaining employer health care benefits? How does reversing the program—and potentially deporting young people who’ve only known the United States as their home— “protect communities and taxpayers” when by all indications DACA recipients have bettered their lives and become productive, tax-paying residents?

If the answer to all those ‘why’ questions is simply “politics as usual”—or, worse, if the administration and the 10 attorneys general who pressured them in the first place are simply seeking payback to a president whose policies they disagreed with—then we are hopelessly misguided in our priorities as a nation. Moreover, I would argue that we’ve lost our moral compass in this country we once called the land of opportunity.

The vast majority of us are the descendants of immigrants. Today we still benefit from our ancestors sacrifices, their desires to start new lives, and their efforts to better the odds for their families and future generations. Given our collective histories, as descendants of immigrants, we should stand up and protect those same opportunities with which we’ve all been blessed and extend them to those who, in most cases, were brought to America by their parents for the exact same reasons.

I am proud to work at an organization such as ACT that works to improve the lives of students—all students—through expanded educational opportunities. I’m heartened that we have signed on to multiple letters of support for DACA.

And, finally, I am resolute in the conviction that my organization will continue to urge this administration, and now Congress, to find ways to maintain and support the DACA program that has benefited 800,000 students and, ultimately, the United States of America.