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Dana Connors is the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
As I approach my retirement from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce in the next few months, numerous priority areas for our state’s economic strength and success are on my mind.
Throughout my near 30 years as the chamber’s president, it has always been critical to make sure the business community’s voice is heard by advocating for our lawmakers to advance beneficial policies, especially when it comes to policies that shape the future of our state and our country’s economic vitality and the success of businesses across many of our key industries.
One area I’d like to voice as a priority is fixing our broken immigration system.
This is as urgent as ever as Maine and the nation face ongoing labor shortages and multiple other economic challenges. We cannot afford to lose the valuable contributions of our immigrant neighbors to our workforce.
Adding to this urgency, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in October that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which offers deportation protections and work authorization to immigrants who came to the U.S as children — is likely illegal. Application approvals are halted, and the program is now being further evaluated by a Texas District Judge who has previously found the program illegal. This ruling has pushed hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients in our country into immense instability as they await a final decision on the policy that is the sole provider of protections that allow them to live and work here.
Instability is certainly not a driver of success, and now our nation’s economy will pay the price. Should the program be terminated entirely, the U.S. will lose more than half a million jobs and as much as $11.7 billion in economic activity annually solely in wages previously being paid to DACA recipients.
These losses will, in turn, trickle down and affect each state’s economic landscape — and Maine is not exempt. It is estimated that the end of DACA would cost our state nearly $4 million in annual GDP losses, and that is without even considering the broader effects that would be felt by our workforce.
Currently, DACA holders are working in important sectors in Maine, ranging from forestry, manufacturing, high-tech, farming, education and more. These sectors and others that employ DACA holders cannot afford to lose any workers as the state faces critical labor shortages. The ripple effect of pushing DACA holders out of the labor force will be felt throughout the economy and our communities.
DACA recipients in Maine and beyond also are valuable members of our population through their day-to-day contributions to our businesses and restaurants, and studies have shown that immigrants overall contribute double that of native-born U.S. citizens to entrepreneurship.
Additionally, passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which, like the Dream Act, has already passed the House and is awaiting Senate action, is urgently needed to strengthen Maine’s and the nation’s agricultural sector. It is another example of why immigration reform is crucial to address the workforce shortage.
At the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, we aim to advance a prosperous business environment for all Maine businesses. Allowing DACA recipients to be forced out of our state and country would go against our mission and values. We cannot stand by and watch a group that is willing and able to contribute to our success be stripped of their work authorization and taken away from the only place that they have ever called home.
I thank U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King for their efforts on immigration, and for recognizing what we have to lose if DACA ends. I urge them to work with their colleagues to provide Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship — as well as support the Farm Workforce Modernization Act — and meaningfully reform our immigration system this year.