Here in Denver the issue of DACA hits close to home so it’s no surprise the issue has struck a nerve among our diverse population, and its compassionate city’s leaders.
DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was created by an Executive Order issued by President Obama in 2012.
The program gives undocumented immigrants who came to the US before the age of 16 – a group sometimes known as the Dreamers – a chance to stay in the US to study or work, provided they meet certain conditions, such as being enrolled in high school, having a high school degree or GED equivalent, and no serious criminal convictions, among others. To give you an idea of the scope of the program, there are more than 43 million immigrants in the US, of whom approximately 11 million are undocumented. Of those 11 million, about 1.9 million were eligible for DACA, and nearly 800,000 came out of the shadows for the chance to attain legal status, a work permit and protection from deportation for two years.
I was appalled by yet another short-sighted decision by the Trump administration to rescind DACA. During his campaign, Trump had said that he would show “great heart” in dealing with the Dreamers, who are “absolutely incredible kids.” Clearly his decision to rescind DACA did not show great heart. I think it was mean-spirited and callous. These young people, these Dreamers, were asked to pay a $495 fee just to apply, thus the program is virtually self-funding. The Dreamers went through background checks, they pay taxes, and were required to give their addresses for the chance to attain legal status; understandably they now feel like they have been betrayed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can now easily track them down and deport them to a country to which they might never have traveled, that speaks a language they might not even know. It looks like the Trump administration is going after low-hanging fruit, fulfilling a campaign promise to his xenophobic base in the most cowardly of ways, and disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of educated, contributing citizens.
There is a (fallacious) argument that Trump delighted in spreading during his campaign, that undocumented immigrants overuse government benefits and pose a danger to this country on economic and personal safety levels. In fact the exact opposite is true: undocumented immigrants (unless they are victims of abuse or trafficking) are ineligible for most major federally funded safety net programs. This includes non-emergency Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare, and the cash welfare program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), among others. Undocumented immigrants are also not eligible to receive Social Security benefits, even though they might have contributed to the system.
Surveys show that Dreamers are getting Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, and going to work at companies, hospitals and universities all over the country. Their legal status provides stability and a way out of poverty for their families; they make enormous contributions to the economy by working in the formal sector, and in their greater purchasing power. The argument that Dreamers are taking jobs away from US citizens is yet another untruth. The belief that there are only so many jobs to go around in economics is called the lump of labor fallacy. With such low unemployment right now, in fact we need people to fill vacancies. For example, industry is begging for people just to show up and ask for a job.
Most economists see immigration as an economic boon, and have warned that ending DACA could adversely affect the US economy. A 2017 study by the Center for American Progress estimated that the loss of DACA-eligible workers would reduce US GDP by $433 billion over the next 10 years. Furthermore, the US public school system has already educated these people and many are at a point where they can start contributing to the economy. Deporting them now would be doubly counterproductive as the country would lose the economic benefit their work would bring, and the US would bear the deportation costs.
It makes no sense to push these bright young minds back into the shadows. Trump has proven once again that his word is useless, as he flip-flopped completely on what he’d said in April, that the Dreamers could rest easy. These young people saw a path out of the shadows, but they’ve been dealt a bait and switch that is absolutely unconscionable.
There is one good thing that will hopefully come out of this, which is that Congress will finally sit down and figure out how to pass sensible and effective immigration reform. Congress has failed for years to do this, and it is past time.
At the local level, I am extremely proud of what Denver City Council (DCC) has done in regard to this issue. DCC unanimously passed a measure called the Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act. This Act boils down to this: Don’t ask about anyone’s status, don’t share it, and don’t help federal authorities with enforcement.
The ICE responded that this ordinance was irresponsible, and that “…Denver’s leadership has codified a dangerous policy that deliberately obstructs our country’s lawful immigration system, protects serious criminal alien offenders, and undermines public safety.”
My argument is that we are acting in accordance with our Constitution, strengthening our economy, and making our communities safer. People who are not afraid they will be deported are more likely to call the police when there are disturbances, for example. People who are not afraid of being deported are more likely to pursue higher education and higher-paying jobs for which their education has qualified them.
We cannot let baseless xenophobia, fear and protectionism take hold of us as a community, a state, a country or a people. I am proud to be part of Denver City Council which has so resoundingly rejected Trump’s position.
This is a repository of articles by CM Espinoza. For day-to-day information and press releases please follow the CD1 Office on Facebook.