Four members of Congress stood up on Sept. 21 to let President Donald Trump know ending the DACA program is not only cruel, but stupid.
Representing Washington state, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were joined by U.S. Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal at Bellevue College to discuss what the end of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals could mean, and how they plan to pass a “clean” version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act using a discharge petition to force a vote in Congress.
“[Dreamers] do not want to be used as a bargaining chip in some sort of legislation where they get the DREAM Act and then there’s more enforcement that picks up family members,” Murray said.
“We are here today to stand in solidarity with the immigrant community and to use this moment of uncertainty and division to do what is right,” she said. “To come together, to defend DACA recipients as a first step towards comprehensive immigration reform and to call on our Republican colleagues to join us because the reality is, Maria and Adam and Pramila and I cannot do this alone.”
The Trump administration announced the end of DACA on Sept. 5. It is a 2012 program created by the Obama administration to provide undocumented children, called Dreamers, who were brought to the country by their parents, a way to stay in the United States legally. For many, the United States is the only place they know as home.
“Our president (Obama) signed that order into place, we gave them our word and now President Trump is attempting to take that back,” Smith (D-Bellevue) said. “There’s no other word for that than cruel. It’s also stupid, but it is mostly cruel to the people who deserve support.”
There are 800,000 DACA recipients in the United States with approximately 18,000 in Washington.
It’s estimated DACA-eligible residents contribute approximately $51 million each year in state and local taxes in Washington, and ending DACA would cost Washington’s economy $258 million in lost tax revenue over a 10-year-period.
Cantwell said Washington state has made sure the diversity of its residents is part of the strategy to moving forward for a better economy and society.
“We all know these individuals came to the United States with no decision, oftentimes brought here as young children,” she said, noting that she learned many came when they were as young as 2 to 5 to 7 years old.
Jose Manuel Vasquez was one of those children.
A graduate of Bellevue College and the University of Washington, Vasquez is now the director of leadership development and programs for the Latino Community Fund of Washington. He is a DACA recipient and is undocumented.
“I came to this country when I was just 7 years old,” he said. “I grew up in South Seattle and it’s the only place I call home.”
Vasquez said he’s a first-generation immigrant and is stuck in this “legal limbo” because of a “broken immigration system that does not fit to meet the needs of today’s society.”
Having lived in the shadows for 20 years, he at first hesitated to give his information to the DACA program for fear of being deported. Through a leap of faith, he applied and began paying taxes and contributing to society.
When he attended Bellevue College, he said he was one of 25 individuals in the state who first used a waiver to apply to Washington state colleges as an in-state resident, despite being undocumented.
That waiver changed his life, setting him on a different trajectory, he said.
Now, he hopes the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States can find a way to make the most of their American dream without fear of deportation.
Jayapal (D-Seattle) said she came to the country when she was 16 and was fortunate to have “a whole alphabet soup of Visas” to gain her citizenship.
“But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any reason why everybody should have a process that can actually allow them to gain citizenship, to gain legal status, to be able to help contribute everything they have to this country,” she said. “So, we are working very hard in the House.”
Smith said he believes passing a resolution has bipartisan support. However, whether Trump would sign it is a different story.
According to The Hill, Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) introduced legislation that gives Dreamers a path to a green card, or permanent legal residence, on Sept. 25. The two announced earlier in the month they are working on a replacement for the DREAM Act, that would eventually grant citizenship.