For the past nine years, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has empowered over 700,000 of our nation’s young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with their families as children to live their lives out of the shadows.
Through DACA, protections are extended to certain eligible young immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age and only know the U.S. as home – otherwise referred to as Dreamers – so they can access legal documentation needed to pursue their educational and career aspirations while giving back to the only country they have ever known.
Across Texas, over 100,000 DACA recipients have established homes and families, built small businesses to help our local economies, and are woven into the fabric of our daily society.
Today, Rio Grande Valley is home to an estimated 14,420 hard working Dreamers who could one day wake up and be separated from their jobs, families, and neighborhoods they have known their whole life. Dreamers in the McAllen metro region alone paid $39.8 million in federal, state, and local taxes and added $142.2 million in spending power to our economy just in 2019 alone.
However, DACA was established as an interim solution to Congress’ deadlock on immigration reform and only helps a portion of our nation’s Dreamers. Today, the program remains highly vulnerable to repeated legal attacks that threaten the program’s existence, leaving DACA recipients in a state of limbo that hinders their ability to plan for the future and reach their full potential. In fact, a recent ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas blocks any new applicants from being granted temporary legal status under the DACA program to go to school and work. If DACA were to completely disappear without any legislative solution, Texas could lose $6.2 billion in annual GDP.
Across the state, about 390,000 Dreamers contribute substantially to our economy which has never been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, about 48% of our state’s Dreamers are essential workers, which includes 30,600 DACA recipients who work in health care, education, farm work, and a number of food-related jobs that help keep the supply chain running and food on our tables. Overall, an estimated 95.2% are actively employed in Texas’ workforce, adding to the diversity that makes our economy one of the strongest in the world. As we recover from the pandemic, it is imperative that we protect these workers and the long-term impacts they make. But doing so requires action from Congress – passing bills such as the Dream Act to create a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamer population.
As the president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, I oversee a community-based organization that collaborates with local business leaders and advocates for policies that help develop our infrastructure and workforce. Enacting legislation that provides an earned pathway for Texas Dreamers – 79% of which have been in the U.S. for more than a decade – would do just that.
The data is clear. When given the opportunity to become citizens, Dreamers have the security to focus on bettering their lives and investing in the community. According to a new report by FWD.us, 83% of once-undocumented individuals from the Americas who are now U.S. citizens file taxes annually and 60% own their own home.
Now more than ever, we need legislation that makes Dreamers’– including DACA recipients – contributions permanent, and offers an earned pathway to citizenship to our young immigrants who have proven to be productive neighbors, students, employees, and friends. Legislation such as the Dream Act is long overdue. Congress must come together at last and pass this bill to foster free enterprise, innovation, and economic growth.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Sergio Contreras, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. The RGVP is the Valley’s regional chamber of commerce. The above guest column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Contreras can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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