A true commencement season for our Dreamers

A true commencement season for our Dreamers
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This month, millions of college graduates throughout the country will receive encouragement from commencement speakers to follow their dreams, realize their full potential, contribute to the prosperity of our country, and decide for themselves the kind of life they want to lead. Congress has in its power to give even more of our young people a chance to live the fullest possible life — by making the Dream Act of 2017 the law of the land and ending the uncertainty and anguish of so many families.

When I think of the potential of these young people, I often think of our commencement speaker this year: Cristina Jimenez Moreta. She arrived in the United States from Quito, Ecuador, at age 13, undocumented, having fled poverty with her parents in search of a better life. She grew up in Queens, New York, always fearful of being deported. Through the city’s education system, she found her way to our campus where, in 2007, she graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science and business, and went on to earn a master’s degree.

Last October, Cristina received a MacArthur Fellowship — the so-called “Genius Grant” — for which she receives $625,000 to be distributed over five years. She was recognized for her work as a social justice activist and as co-founder and executive director of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country. This spring, Time magazine named her to its list of the 100 most influential people of 2018.


Cristina has devoted her career to defending other immigrants against deportation, improving their access to education, seeking justice for undocumented members of the LGBTQ community, and, most of all, championing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She has plenty of support within the legal community. Just last month, Judge John D. Bates of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the Trump administration’s efforts to cancel DACA. Previously, federal judges in Brooklyn and San Francisco issued similar decisions. Judge Bates went even further, ordering the government to accept and process new, as well as renewal, DACA applications; he stayed his decision for 90 days to allow the Department of Homeland Security time to explain its rationale for terminating the program.

While the clock continues to tick for these young people and their families, evidence mounts that DACA offers significant economic advantages to the United States. Research by Queens College Sociology Professor Amy Hsin shows that DACA recipients are more productive than undocumented workers with the same levels of education and experience. Documentation allows DACA recipients to take jobs corresponding to their skill levels, which lifts their income while increasing the gross domestic product by $3.5 billion a year. Given their relatively small numbers and our nation’s low unemployment rates, they are certainly no threat to the U.S.-born labor force. And they pay taxes to help support the needs of the greater society they toil within. Experts from both sides of the political spectrum agree on this.

Our country historically has valued the contributions of immigrants, and it must compete in the global marketplace. I believe it is clear that all of us would gain from the extension of DACA and passage of the Dream Act. But every day that passes is another day of anxiety for families across America who are forced to remain in the shadows of deportation. They have reason to be afraid. Texas and six other states have filed suit against the federal government to eliminate DACA entirely.

Cristina’s story is one that could happen only in America. It is the kind of story for which people all over the world admire America — a place of hope and opportunity. We must ensure that we have more success stories for generations to come, for the greater good of our nation.

I join with my colleagues at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), of which I am the board chair, and also hundreds of higher education leaders, in again asking Congress to ratify the Dream Act of 2017. This legislation would create a route to citizenship for recipients of DACA, those with temporary protected status, and the undocumented who graduate from U.S. high schools and attend college, get jobs, or join the armed forces. It is time for Congress to stop sitting back while the judicial branch struggles with the merits of executive action.

For everyone’s sake, Congress must establish immigration reform as the law of the land. By acting now, Congress will guarantee that thousands of qualified, talented and promising young Dreamers will next year enjoy their commencement ceremonies as they prepare to contribute to the prosperity and wellbeing of our — and their — country.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez is the president of Queens College CUNY and board chair of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).