Children brought into United States illegally refuse to leave their parents behind

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is refusing to back down from his latest baseless, insulting attack on our Latino and immigrant communities. Last week, he repeatedly insisted that undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children don’t deserve to be protected from deportation because many have supposedly worked as “drug mules” ferrying marijuana across the border. 

To anyone who has met these inspiring young people, known as the “Dreamers,” King’s statements are plainly ridiculous. Dreamers grew up in our communities, attended our schools and joined their classmates in saying the Pledge of Allegiance just as we did and love America just as we do. Fortunately, not all Republicans share King’s sad contempt for undocumented youth. Unfortunately, however, the House leadership’s current approach to the critical issue of immigration reform is equally misguided. 

House Republicans are reportedly developing legislation that would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children. Because these young people are among the most sympathetic victims of our broken immigration system, it’s understandable that Republicans would want to help them, and it’s heartening to see the GOP inching in the right direction on immigration policy. However, consistent with our American values, Dreamers and their allies in Congress are united in rejecting any legislation that fails to protect the parents of Dreamers from deportation. Like the vast majority of Americans, we believe the time has clearly come for comprehensive immigration reform.  

As, respectively, a congressional co-author of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the managing director of the largest immigrant youth network in the country, we remain committed to winning a fair path to citizenship for both Dreamers and their parents. We will not accept proposals that attempt to divide the immigration reform movement or condemn the parents of Dreamers to second-class status. Their sacrifices are what enabled these talented, ambitious young people to excel. Instead of forcing Dreamers and their parents to remain in the shadows, we should empower them to use their skills and initiative to help us build a better economy and a stronger nation.  

Creating a fair path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants is sound policy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that immigration reform would have boosted America’s gross domestic product by between 0.8 and 1.3 percent from 2012 through 2016. It’s also smart politics. Mainstream Republicans increasingly recognize that their party must expand its appeal to Latino and minority voters in order to remain electorally competitive in a country that’s becoming increasingly diverse. 

These economic and political considerations are extremely important, but for us, the fight for comprehensive immigration reform is ultimately about families. It’s about Ray from Maryland, whose parents, with tears in their eyes, had to tell him he was undocumented and therefore couldn’t accept the scholarships he’d been offered for track and field. It’s about Rosa from Arkansas, whose mother suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome from years of working in a poultry plant to support her family and help Rosa realize her dream of going to college and becoming a teacher. It’s about Cristina’s own parents, who in order to give Cristina and her brother a chance to realize their dreams, worked tirelessly cleaning houses and washing cars. It’s about the more than 5,000 U.S. citizen children who are currently living with strangers in foster care because their parents were deported.  

For their sake and for the sake of millions of other families, we need fair and just immigration reform. Legislative proposals that separate Dreamers from their parents and siblings are contrary to our American values and create an uncertain future for these young people if their parents are deported. Just like the majority of Americans, we believe immigration reform without a broad, accessible opportunity to earn U.S. citizenship isn’t immigration reform at all. Instead of this flawed approach, let’s work together to craft a bipartisan compromise that reflects the value Americans place on children and families, strengthens our economy and honors our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

Roybal-Allard has represented California’s 40th Congressional District in the House of Representatives since 1993. She sits on the Appropriations Committee. Jimenez is managing director of United We Dream.