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DACA youth deserve a clean ‘Dream Act’ — not a poison pill


The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provided temporary protection from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the United States as children.

Soon after President Trump’s decision last month to terminate the DACA program, the president met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. According to press reports, the group reached an understanding to support passage of the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act,” better known as the “DREAM Act,” which would essentially make DACA’s protection permanent.

Then just a day ago, he reneged on that promise.  Now the White House is asking for a series of poison pills to be included in the DREAM Act and once again, the passage of a clean bill and the future of thousands of hardworking young people hang in the balance.   

The DREAM Act enjoys widespread support among the American public; However, too many lawmakers who claim to support a solution for hard-working youth thrust into limbo are carrying hidden agendas. There are those who have argued for inclusion of measures with the DREAM Act to increase “interior enforcement,” a euphemism for increasing deportations in communities across the country, while others insist that the deal include funding for “the wall.”

Others are trying to mask their opposition by appointing task forces or asking for further guidance from the administration, a common delaying tactic.  

Those of us familiar with the legislative process recognize the tactics: some are  poison pill amendments designed to kill the bill. A slightly subtler strategy is to add enough unpopular ornamental amendments so the resulting “Christmas tree” bill becomes so politically heavy that it fails.

Make no mistake: Politicians are deliberately gumming up the works so that in the end, nothing happens. They’re trying to kill the bill without leaving fingerprints.

Some of the ideas they propose may be legitimate subjects of debate, and Congress can consider them any time, preferably when it finally gets around to comprehensive immigration reform. But now that we’re faced with a crisis created by the president’s decision to terminate DACA, our position is very clear: Congress should pass, and President Trump should sign, a clean DREAM Act. Now.  

Failure to do so will place more than 750,000 DACA youth at risk of deportation, and a million more DREAMers brought to this country as children will lose a chance at legal status. Passage of the DREAM Act would not only help DREAMers, it would help all American communities prosper, adding $280 billion to our GDP according to the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress. Compare that to the cost to taxpayers of deporting DREAMers, estimated to be more than $158 billion by the conservative Cato Institute.

At the same time, every day of delay forces hundreds of thousands of young people to put their education, their careers, their lives, and their dreams, on hold. Is it worth paying tuition to finish college? Should they try and get a better job, knowing their work permit will run out in six months? Should they buy the car they need to get to work?

Looking at the issue from DREAMers’ perspective also makes clear what’s at stake for the rest of us: every college dropout, every job left unfilled, every car left on the lot translates to less economic activity, lower incomes, and fewer jobs for everyone.   

Beyond the economic case for the DREAM Act, the moral case is even more compelling: DREAMers were brought to this country as children. They have committed no crime, and in most cases, this is the only country they’ve ever known.

DACA recipients have graduated from or are enrolled in high school, and passed criminal background checks. No wonder that every poll has found overwhelming public support among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents for the DREAM Act. If Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell would simply allow an up-or-down vote, the DREAM Act would pass by huge, bipartisan majorities in both houses.

We say no poison pills. No Christmas trees. The time for an up-or-down vote on the DREAM Act is now.

Albert Jacquez is Director of the UnidosUS Policy Analysis Center. UnidosUS is the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, and for nearly 50 years has worked to break down economic and political barriers Latinos face.

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