Opinion: Uncertainty still looms for Dreamers

The Direct Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program could cease to exist for people who arrived in the U.S. as children, unless Congress produces a legislative solution.

Credit: Ralph Barrera

Credit: Ralph Barrera

Georgia communities, businesses, and leaders came together last month to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. For the past decade, nearly 20,000 Georgia Dreamers who came to the U.S. with their families at a young age have been able to secure temporary deportation protections and work authorizations through DACA so they can lend their talents and contributions to our state, workforce, and economy. While we celebrated this policy, June 15 also served as a stark reminder of the uncertain road for DACA — and the decade of inaction from Congress that has opened the door to a potentially devastating court decision.

On July 6, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the State of Texas v. USA. Should an unfavorable ruling come down in the fall - which is likely - DACA could cease to exist unless Congress passes a permanent legislative solution to give legal certainty to DACA recipients and future generations of Dreamers. After 10 years of congressional failure to codify this policy, it’s time our leaders assemble around a bipartisan compromise that will protect these hard-working immigrants who are our friends, colleagues and neighbors. Otherwise, we risk losing their significant social, cultural and economic support.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Georgia DACA recipients contribute $285.3 million in annual local, state and federal taxes. According to a new report by FWD.us, the average age of DACA recipients in the Peach State is 28, and they’ve lived here for an average of 22 years. Additionally, 90% have a high school diploma, with about one-third holding a college degree and more than three-quarters of the DACA population working in our strained labor force.

These are real people who have given their lives to making our state a better place – as Georgia’s U.S. Senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock said on DACA’s 10th anniversary, “I believe every human being has dignity,” and we full-heartedly agree. People like Israel Arce, a DACA recipient who has followed his passions in the medical field and music, are at risk of being ripped away from their careers, friends and families. As a surgical technician, Israel was instrumental in our COVID-19 response efforts along with the 5,600 other DACA recipients who served on the pandemic front lines.

Even though DACA has been tremendously successful, court challenges to the policy’s constitutionality have limited its scope and are preventing thousands of other Georgia Dreamers from applying for protections.

While still in the program, DACA beneficiaries live through constant uncertainty and can only renew their status every two years. Further, the program is currently closed to new applicants, rendering many Dreamers ineligible. Not only is the legal standing of DACA recipients and all Dreamers in the U.S. on the line, but they have to face other inequities at home, such as being blocked from partaking in programs available to all other Georgia taxpayers, like in-state tuition.

While Georgia state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have worked to alleviate some of the financial strains for Dreamers through tuition equity legislation, it has yet to cross the finish line despite progress during this year’s state legislative session. Tuition equity is a win-win and lawmakers should get this done. The policy could add $10 million to Georgia’s economy each year and having more Dreamers graduate from college will increase our state’s talent pool for decades of success.

Meanwhile, Congress needs to act and provide our Dreamers a pathway to citizenship so that Georgia Dreamers who have kept our state going and only want to raise their families, work and pay taxes can achieve the American Dream. If given the opportunity to earn a pathway to citizenship, DACA recipients could add $14 billion to the nation’s overall GDP growth.

As a legislative solution is ironed out, the Latin American Association will continue to empower Georgia’s immigrants by offering services from adult education and literacy classes to youth programs and employment services to continue driving diversity and positive growth throughout our communities. We’ll continue joining forces with leaders and community members to ensure our state’s success, and it is time Congress does the same.

Carolina Ramos is the director of advocacy and outreach at the Latin American Association in Atlanta.