On Monday, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced bipartisan legislation to legalize Dreamers. Because the bill conflicts with President Trump’s plans to fund a border wall and restrict family-based migration, he immediately took to Twitter, calling the proposal a “total waste of time.”
But what Trump fails to realize is that his own immigration plans are a waste of time, and would only double down on the exact same policies that created today’s Dreamer crisis.
In 1965, Congress passed similar legislation in response to the same fears Trump has stoked about immigrants today. “The day is not far off when the population explosion in Latin American countries will exert great pressures upon those people to immigrate to the United States,” said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., during congressional deliberation on immigration quotas. These concerns resulted in Congress passing strict caps on permanent resident visas for immigrants from the Western hemisphere, which deliberately impacted countries like Mexico. In the same year, Congress also terminated a 20-year-old guest worker program that allowed millions of Mexicans to legally work in the U.S.
Consequently, many Latin Americans seeking economic opportunity in the U.S. effectively had no option but to come illegally.
The U.S. undocumented population steadily grew for two decades before Congress attempted to address the issue by passing the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law gave amnesty to 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants, but also increased border patrol staff by 50 percent. Since then, Congress has spent roughly $263 billion on border enforcement. But instead of reducing illegal immigration, the undocumented population actually doubled.
How did this happen? According to Doug Massey, a sociologist at Princeton University, illegal immigrants bypassed the new fencing, surveillance measures, and border security personnel by taking detours through the dangerous mountains and deserts. Although more immigrants died along the journey, the rate of illegal entry stayed the same.
But the rate at which illegal immigrants left the U.S. to return to Mexico diminished. Before Congress ramped up border security, illegal immigrants would typically enter the country for temporary work and return home to their families after a few years. Because border enforcement increased the dangers of returning home, many immigrants and their families settled permanently in the U.S. Many DACA recipients are the children of these families.
In their efforts to curb illegal immigration, Congress created a generation of undocumented young people that could not drive or work for fear of deportation. Once DACA was enacted in 2012, Dreamers were free to reach their potential. In 2014, 59 percent of them reported getting their first job and 45 percent reported an increase in their pay. They started businesses at twice the rate as the average U.S. citizen and contributed approximately $2 billion a year in state and local taxes.
Trump and the vast majority of his supporters realize these accomplishments and believe that Dreamers deserve protection. But when Trump says he will only agree to protect them in exchange for a border wall and regulations that make it even harder for immigrants to come legally, he ignores two important lessons from history: One, there will always be people willing to take risks out of love for their families. Secondly, Dreamers are successful not because they are exceptional, but because America gave them a chance. Immigrants seeking the same opportunities deserve the same dignity.
Trump and others say immigrants should come legally, but the system makes that almost impossible. As of March 2017, the government was still processing employment visas from 2003 and family-sponsored visas from 1993. Trump complains about “chain migration,” but sponsoring family members to come to the U.S. is a 13- to 23-year process.
Contrary to Trump's statements, Latino immigrants commit less crime and are incarcerated at around one-fifth the rate of U.S. citizens. Their employment rate is 10 percent higher than the average American, and their low labor costs allow firms to expand, creating jobs and raising wages for Americans. Imagine what these people could accomplish if they had full legal protections.
Sam Peak (@Tiger_Speak) is an advocate for Young Voices who lives in Alexandria, Va.
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