In 2017, I met Jessica. She’s a Dreamer who wants the same things that everyone wants – safety, a good education, and a job.
Her parents brought her here because they wanted her to have a prosperous life. But, that hope for a better life remained uncertain until Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) finally provided peace of mind to Jessica and the hundreds of thousands of young people just like her.
However, all of the doors that opened for Jessica under DACA could soon be sealed shut. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that will decide whether Dreamers can stay in the country they call home.
DACA gave nearly 800,000 Dreamers more than just hope. We gave young people our word that they’d have a shot to work toward the American dream—that if they work hard and play by the rules, they can pursue their dreams in the only home they’ve ever known.
President Trump broke that promise and betrayed every Dreamer in our country. It’s shameful. It means that young people live in fear of whether this administration will target their family members next or force them to abandon their lives for a country they’ve never known.
This is not a game. Real people’s lives are hanging in the balance. As a Senator, I’ve been honored to meet Dreamers from across the United States who love our country, believe in our democracy, and put everything on the line to stay here. I’ve seen them day after day, marching through the halls of Congress to make their voices heard after sleeping 10 deep on someone’s living room floor.
I carry their stories with me wherever I go. I think of Melody Klingenfuss, who works at a non-profit to help others advocate for their human rights while waiting seven months for her own DACA renewal to be approved. It’s why I invited her to speak with me at a DACA roundtable. I think of Dreamers like Yuriana Aguilar, whose parents brought her here from Mexico when she was in kindergarten. She went on to become a biomedical researcher to keep the human heart healthy. It’s why I brought her as my guest to a joint session of Congress. And, people like Carolina Lucas, who dreams of obtaining a master’s degree and taught herself how to do her own taxes and practice real estate. It’s why I was proud to have her intern in my office. These are the young people who inspire me to fight to ensure the promises made to them are kept.
DACA allowed Dreamers to come out of the shadows and live without fear. Until we establish a path to citizenship, DACA took a step toward giving Dreamers a shot at the American dream. When the Trump administration took a jackhammer to this policy, it exploited the trust that Dreamers put in the federal government and blamed Congress. But, let’s speak truth. This move was always a part of an anti-immigrant agenda.
President Trump has weaponized divisive rhetoric to call immigrants almost everything in the book – from rapists, to criminals, to people from “shithole” countries. He’s been checking off an anti-immigrant wish list ever since he entered the Oval Office. Just look at family detention, the denial of basic hygiene products to migrant children, a vanity border wall, the Muslim ban, family separation, deaths in U.S. custody, a threat to deport immigrants with serious medical conditions – to name a few. Rescinding DACA was just another check mark on a long list. But, states and people are fighting back.
Dreamers are American in every way except on a piece of paper. Protecting DACA isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s what the American people want. Communities don’t want friends, classmates, colleagues, and neighbors to hide in the shadows, lose their jobs, or be separated from their families. They don’t want the moral fiber of communities torn apart and diversity thrown out the window. Dreamers built lives in America and contribute to society and the economy. It’s estimated that they pay $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes. That means more money flowing into neighborhood schools, roads, and other priorities. Some courageously serve in the military. They deserve better than what President Trump is peddling, and the highest court in the land should do the right thing and protect them.
As they begin to decide the fate of DACA, our nine justices should remember the words engraved in stone above the U.S. Supreme Court: “Equal Justice Under Law.” If they truly intend to live up to these words, they must affirm that when the United States makes a promise, it’s a promise that people can trust. Betraying 800,000 young people is not who we are as Americans. It’s time to show that we can keep our word.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Eliana Fernandez, center, with other DACA recipients as they head into hear arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether the 2017 Trump administration decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) is lawful on Nov. 12, 2019. (Photo: Jack Gruber/USA Today)