Congress must pass a solution for Dreamers now

Congress must pass a solution for Dreamers now
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Earlier this month, Christian Gomez Garcia, one of nearly 42,000 Illinois-based recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was wrongfully detained at a Cook County courthouse when he appeared for a minor traffic violation.

This incident was terrifying for Garcia, who has lived here for 25 years and underwent a full background check in order to receive DACA status, and designed to intimidate immigrant communities in Cook County, Ill. Most important, it illustrated the urgency for a permanent legislative solution that creates a path to citizenship for our country’s 1.8 million Dreamers.

Without legal protections in place, these young men and women could be detained by the federal government and threatened with deportation. It wouldn’t matter how long they’ve lived in the United States, or whether they are working, enrolled in school or serving in the military.


And that would be a shame, because what we know is that Dreamers make incredible contributions to our county, like the 32 Dreamers who are currently enrolled in medical school at Loyola University in Chicago.

Washington needs to do something, and their opportunity to do so is now. Congress began debating on a path forward for DACA recipients Monday, and to prevent any more cases like Garcia’s, they must pass bipartisan legislation by the end of this week.

The Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. The bill, which has broad bipartisan support, combines a path to citizenship for the Dreamers with additional border control measures. Congress should pass it or similar legislation this week.

At our core, Cook County residents know that immigrants and immigration are good for our county and our economy. We know that immigrants invent new products, start new businesses, and add to our nation’s productivity.

I will speak out against any effort to curb legal immigration or intimidate immigrant communities because it would hurt our economy and fundamentally change the nature of who we are as a county and a nation.

Last week, in response to Garcia’s temporary detention, I signed a proclamation urging federal officials to designate courthouses as “sensitive locations.”

That designation, which already is applied to schools, hospitals and places of worship, would keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from making civil arrests at courthouses.

I believe it’s a policy that is essential for keeping individuals out of the shadows and engaged with the criminal justice system. Spreading fear is not good for anyone in our community, immigrants or native-born.

When I signed that proclamation, I reminded Cook County residents that our Dreamers aren’t just a nameless, faceless group of individuals. They are students. They are doctors and lawyers. They are military service members. They are fathers, mothers, daughters and sons. They are dedicated contributors to our county. And they are, by almost every measure, Americans.

Deporting them, after our country promised to protect them, is wrong. Our county would be worse for it. That’s why I ask all of our representatives in Congress to work together and find a solution for Dreamers this week.

Toni Preckwinkle is the president of Cook County, Ill. which is the second largest county in America. You can find her on Twitter @tonipreckwinkle