Legislators Should Create a Pathway to Citizenship for “Dreamers” Now

February 6, 2018 by Ellen Hutton in Blog

As the home to nearly 150,000 federal government employees, Maryland is hit harder than most other states during a government shutdown. Families miss vital paychecks, and past shutdowns were estimated to cost the state as much as $5 million in revenue per day. Fortunately, the recent government shutdown ended after only three days, when Congress passed another short-term spending resolution to fund the federal government through this Thursday, Feb. 8. What happens next depends in part on legislators’ ability to come to a bipartisan agreement on immigration, including a pathway to citizenship for immigrants protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The future of DACA has been uncertain since September, when the Justice Department announced an end to the program, as created by an executive order under President Obama, but suggested that Congress create a legislative fix for the program. A federal injunction has temporarily revived the program, allowing individuals whose DACA status lapsed or would lapse in the coming months to renew their protected status. However, it is unknown how long the injunction will remain in place. Legislators in support of DACA have been reluctant to pass a spending bill without addressing the program because there may not be another opportunity to broach the issue before DACA recipients face deportation again.

No one benefits from deporting Dreamers

More than 11,000 young immigrants who have legal authorization to work and go to school under DACA, often referred to as “Dreamers,” live in Maryland. As many as 24,000 Marylanders are eligible for the program in total, but immigration officials aren’t accepting new applications and many who need to renew their status have not done so out of fear for what may happen to them if the program comes to a permanent end.

Immigrants without documentation, including Dreamers, are not eligible for government services such as nutrition assistance (SNAP), Medicaid, or even federal student loans and grants. Before the Republican tax bill passed in December, Dreamers were able to access the American Opportunity Tax Credit to help with the cost of college tuition, but they are no longer even eligible for that.

Though they lack access to many government services, Dreamers living in Maryland contribute more than $40 million in state and local taxes each year. Many are high-achieving students who contribute academically to Maryland’s university system. Others are valuable young members of our aging workforce. They have spent most of their lives here and often don’t have support networks in their countries of birth.

Many Marylanders recognize the contributions of Dreamers. Three-quarters of Marylanders support DACA and think Dreamers should have a path to citizenship or legal resident status.

A pathway to citizenship for Dreamers shouldn’t be tied to wasteful spending

President Trump has stated that he will support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but only in conjunction with an appropriation of funds for new immigration enforcement officers, judges, and prosecutors, on top of $25 billion for a border wall. There is little evidence that  a new border wall would have a significant impact on migration, and it is likely to cost far more than $25 billion in total to construct. Building a border wall could be damaging to the economy, potentially spurring a trade war between the U.S. and Mexico that would be harmful to American consumers and U.S. businesses that operate in Mexico or have located parts of their supply chains there. In addition, construction would pose significant harm to the environment, and the Trump Administration has already sought to bypass environmental assessments and regulations intended to mitigate damage.

Following the recent federal tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations, which are likely to add $1.8 trillion for the federal deficit and drive cuts to vital programs such as Medicaid and SNAP, significantly increasing funding for immigration enforcement and construction of a largely ineffective, potentially harmful wall does not make fiscal sense. Legislators must act now to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, without making concessions that waste tax dollars needed to support investments in infrastructure, education, health care, and the many other things that drive our economy and support our communities.