Congress Has Once Again Failed Immigrant Youths

Imagine what it’s like to live in a state of perpetual uncertainty — at any moment you could lose your job because you no longer have the right to work legally. Picture families ripped apart — a mother sent back to a country she barely remembers, forced to leave her child behind. What would you do if the teachers, doctors and nurses in your community were suddenly barred from entering your children’s classrooms or treating your loved ones?

As someone who is protected by DACA, I think a lot about this.

During this lame duck session of Congress, while Democrats still control both chambers, there was an opportunity to keep this scenario from becoming a reality. A bipartisan proposal, led by Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Thom Tillis, would have provided a path to citizenship for about two million immigrant youths, including recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But negotiations to include it in the 2023 omnibus appropriations bill failed.

This might’ve been the last chance to save DACA. The program remains under attack and could be undone by the Supreme Court as early as next year, ripping away work permits and protections from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people. Republicans, readying to seize control of the House in less than two weeks, have already made it clear that they won’t advance legislation that protects undocumented immigrants.

I first came to Washington in 2010 to fight for the Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship to undocumented people who came to the United States as children. I was a college student at Texas A&M University, and I persuaded United We Dream, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy organization, to cover the cost of a bus to transport me and other young undocumented students from Texas to Washington so we could join rallies and meet with elected officials to lobby for the bill.

When the Dream Act failed to pass, many of us came out more publicly about our immigration status in an effort to pressure President Barack Obama to act. Two years later, he signed an executive order to create DACA, a temporary fix that allowed young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, as I did from Mexico at age 7, to obtain work permits and protection from deportation if they met certain criteria.

Today, as executive director of United We Dream, I help to lead our network of undocumented youths all the while knowing I have to live with the same uncertainty, the same inability to plan, without a path to citizenship.

Last week, I watched as hundreds of United We Dream members, alongside other immigrant youths and allies, descended on Washington from states including Alaska, Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina to urge Congress to act. Those young people, who reminded me so much of myself in 2010, filled my spirit with their hope, determination and resilience.

We have shared our stories, we have held rallies, we have knocked on doors in the middle of a pandemic. It breaks my heart that once again Congress has failed us.

Our loss of work permits and deportation protections would have far-reaching implications for our country. As DACA recipients, we have to renew our status every two years. If the program were to end, we would most likely fall out of status on a rolling basis, which means an estimated 1,000 people would lose their jobs each day for two years.

If we lose our right to live and work here legally, we will lose our ability to pay our mortgages, our access to employer-sponsored health insurance and the ability to pay our employees. According to the New American Economy Research Fund, DACA-eligible immigrants collectively earn more than $20 billion per year, most of which is either paid out in federal taxes or spent in the economy.

We represent some 200,000 essential workers, including nearly 30,000 health care workers who have helped communities across the country get through this pandemic. The education profession is among the top careers DACA recipients pursue. If the program ends, the field stands to lose 800 DACA-protected professionals per month for two years. The end of the program will also bring uncertainty to the over 2.5 million people who live with a DACA recipient.

Providing citizenship for immigrant youths has broad support from voters. And Democrats in Congress owe their legislative power to Black and brown organizers on the ground in states like Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada who have been organizing for years, leading to significant grass-roots support. And in Arizona, where they have been fighting back against racist anti-immigrant policies for over a decade. Those organizers knocked on doors in 2018, 2020 and 2022 to help Democrats in Arizona win and retain two Senate seats and delivered the state’s Electoral College votes to a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in over 20 years.

When I think about the millions of young immigrants, including DACA recipients, who have had to live their lives in a perpetual state of limbo, I am filled with righteous anger, which I channel into action and a discipline of hope that we are working to create the conditions for us to win and to build the futures we deserve.

We need President Biden and members of Congress to come together and meet this moment with the urgency it requires.

Greisa Martínez Rosas is a DACA recipient and executive director of United We Dream, the nation’s largest youth-led immigrant network.

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