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We realize we’ve compiled a long list of things that Congress should tackle before it adjourns for the year. That’s because lawmakers had left a lot of important issues unresolved as they headed into a lame duck session before control of the House of Representatives switches hands next year.
Providing certainty and permanency to the many young people in America who are sometimes called “Dreamers” should be one of those priorities.
Congress has failed to take action several times to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. As a result more than 650,000 young people who were brought to America by their parents or other family members remain in legal limbo.
That limbo got a little shakier in October when a federal court questioned the validity of the program.
Last month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with several states, including Texas, that had argued the program, created 10 years ago under the administration of then-President Barack Obama, was invalid because the White House did not follow proper procedures at that time, including collecting public input, when it wrote the rules that allowed the young immigrants to stay in America. The court, however, did not invalidate the program but rather directed a lower court to review recent changes to the program made by the Biden administration.
The program faces further legal challenges, including a potential third hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2020, the court, by a vote of 5-4, ruled that an effort by then-President Donald Trump to end the program was invalid. The justices did not rule on the validity of the program itself.
Congress can — and should — step in to fix this untenable situation. At minimum, lawmakers need to make DACA protections, including the ability to obtain work permits, permanent.
To gain needed Republican support in the Senate, a DACA fix will likely be tied to increased border security, a reasonable trade-off. This is especially true in the absence of more comprehensive immigration legislation, something that has long eluded Congress.
Such a compromise is apparently in the works in the Senate. A draft plan crafted by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, includes a path to citizenship for Dreamers, money for more border officers, and resources to address the significant backlog of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
This ambitious plan, which is trying to address several ongoing immigration challenges that need attention, deserves a close look. It can be a productive framework for improving border security and providing certainty for those covered by DACA.
Dreamers were brought to America as children, and many have not visited their home countries since they arrived here. Most have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years. They attend schools here and work here. They are integral parts of their communities.
Beyond the obvious humanitarian imperative, turning away a vital part of our workforce, at a time when many businesses and institutions are still struggling to fill vacancies, would likely harm our economy. That’s why many business leaders support making the protections included in DACA permanent.
According to Dana Connors, the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, DACA recipients work in numerous sectors of the Maine economy, including forestry, education and manufacturing. Ending the program would cost the state $4 million annually, while the country would lose more than half a million jobs and nearly $12 billion
“At the Maine State Chamber, we aim to advance a prosperous business environment for all Maine businesses,” Connors wrote in a recent BDN column. “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.”
Congress should not allow that to happen.