Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a Council Member At Large and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and an Opinion Writer for WRAL Tech Wire. He served on the Board of the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council, and on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force. He is a regular contributing writer to WRAL TechWire.
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MORRISVILLE – Winston Churchill once said that you should never let a crisis go to waste. For North Carolina’s 24,000 Dreamers, though, the past decade has been the story of one wasted crisis after another.
Since President Barack Obama enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, more than 600,000 young immigrants have been brought out of the shadows and given the ability to work and study without fear of deportation.
Over that time, though, the DACA program has remained under constant legal challenge. Each new threat to the program has sparked calls for legislation to give the Dreamers a real path to permanent status — but so far, our lawmakers have ignored these pleas.
And now, it’s deja vu all over again: a Texas court has once more ruled against the DACA program. That means new applications won’t be processed and existing DACA recipients are forced to wait in confusion and fear for the Supreme Court to take up the issue—and likely shutter the program permanently.
“We keep having to live court case to court case,” says one DACA recipient, a nonprofit worker named Juliana Macedo do Nascimento. “We know that ultimately the likelihood that the policy will survive is very low.”
This is, frankly, a ludicrous situation. The Dreamers were infants when they were brought to America, and children when DACA was implemented, but today many of them are well into middle age. There not just kids, but teachers, nurses, factory workers, and business owners. They pay taxes and buy cars and homes. They’re raising over 300,000 American-born children.
They are members of our churches.
They cheer for the same sports teams we do.
They volunteer and pray and work and play alongside us.
They have grown up with us and become part of our communities.
Thanks to DACA, many have obtained degrees from North Carolina’s amazing colleges and universities and gained skills that our state’s employers’ desperately need. Last month, a coalition of companies representing over half of the U.S. private-sector workforce called on Congress to protect Dreamers. Without these workers, they say, our economy would lose $11.7 billion a year, and our schools and hospitals would be left without thousands of much-needed teachers and healthcare workers.
In North Carolina, dreamers contribute $484 million to the state economy and continue to play a critical role in our economic growth. (New American Economy Data) Given the increasingly worsening labor shortage facing our country, we need young talent to join our workforce now more than ever and prepare these new workers for the jobs of the New Economy. In Morrisville, these young workers can enroll in the Wake Early College of Biotechnology and Wake Tech RTP to prepare for emerging careers in Data/Analytics, Life Sciences, Cyber Security and Artificial Intelligence. A better trained pipeline of workforce talent will only help us create more jobs in our region and state.
The reality is that DACA was only ever meant to be a Band-Aid — a short-term remedy designed to give lawmakers time to craft a lasting solution. But again and again, our lawmakers have failed to come together to pass such legislation. It’s all the more disappointing because the issue has bipartisan support. According to one survey, three-quarters of Americans — including 69% of Trump voters and 71% of conservatives — want to see a real solution for the Dreamers. More than six out of 10 Americans want to see the Dreamers given a path to citizenship. Just 12% want to see these young people deported.
As we all know, there’s far too much vitriol in our politics right now. We’ve got to find the places where we can come together. Protections for Dreamers is one of them. There is a high cost for inaction. Already, 100,000 undocumented students who don’t qualify for DACA graduate each year from American high schools without the ability to get a legal job. And current DACA recipients will go to work every morning and return to their American kids every night, afraid that the stroke of a judge’s pen could tear their lives apart. This is sheer cruelty. As a nation, we gain nothing by it.
DACA was only ever meant to be a stopgap solution, which means the only solution is for our lawmakers to stand up, put their differences aside, and write Dreamer protections into law. We can’t let this latest crisis go to waste. It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation, and finally give North Carolina’s Dreamers the stability they deserve.