Citizenship Path for Dreamers
Immigrant children brought to the United States illegally by their parents have lived their lives as Americans but are not citizens. Mexican immigrants have become the largest minority in the United States. In 2014, more than 11.7 million Mexican immigrants resided in the United States (Zong & Batolva, 2016). Without citizenship, young Latino Americans face economic and personal hardships that must be alleviated. A policy that provides a path to citizenship will allow them to secure basic necessities. They are called Dreamers because the initial 2001 legislation called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) was aimed at providing permanent residency to immigrant children.
No Dream legislation has become law even bipartisan versions (Schmid, 2103). Dreamers are not citizens, so they are denied the ability to receive federal health care, federal student aid, a Social Security number or a driver’s license (Gonzalez, Terriques, & Ruszczyk, 2014). They are subject to deportation at any time.
They are subject to deportation at any time. The threat adds stress to the lives of family members. Parents may be undocumented while some siblings may have birth citizenship. Dreamers are powerless and lack opportunity to pursue upward mobility.
A legislative policy path to citizenship is proposed to provide equal opportunity for undocumented immigrant children (primarily Latino) who meet certain criteria. Only Congress can give a path to citizenship (Schmid, 2013). An incremental policy for Dreamers who are proving their ability to contribute to our economy gives them hope and incentive. The proposed policy may be considered a mixture of a rational political model and the incremental model building on a presidential executive order. The proposal has an element of bounded rationality maximizing the greatest good while the political aspect recognizes the value conflicts between parties (Cummins, Byers, and Pedirick, 2011). It is incremental as it is not proposing sweeping changes to our immigration system thus increasing likelihood of passage. A synopsis of the recent history of undocumented young adult policy is needed to analyze this critical problem.
In 2013 by executive order, President Obama gave unauthorized immigrant Dreamers an opportunity to stay in America to study or work, but he did not give a path to citizenship. Dreamers cannot vote, are denied state welfare benefits even though they pay into Social Security, pay taxes, and are not fully included in communities (Schmid, 2013). Some of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) criteria to qualify for exemption from deportation includes a high school diploma, GED or currently in higher education, continuous residency since 2007, and absence of serious criminal convictions (Schmid, 2013). Almost all applicants are approved, given a work permit and renewable protection for two years. Nearly 790,000 Dreamers have received these benefits (Uwemadimo, Monterrey & Linton, 2017).
Research after DACA showed how recipients’ lives improved and gives evidence that immigrant policy change is needed. A web survey of DACA recipients revealed that 59% of respondents obtained a new job and 45% increased their salaries (Gonzalez, Terriquez & Ruszczyk, 2014). Young adults who did not apply for DACA, especially those of Mexican origin, will continue to face hardships. Dreamers who have not applied for DACA may have been discouraged by the $465 application and renewal fee, unable to document five years continuous presence, and lacked supportive help (Singer & Svajlenka, 2013). It is interesting to note that 75% of DACA applicants were born in Mexico and 75% have been here for at least ten years (Singer & Svajlenka, 2013). President Trump ended DACA in September 2017, and issued a March 5, 2018 deadline for Congress to agree on a policy. New applicants are not being accepted but renewals are allowed.
That deadline passed without resolution but the courts have established current DACA recipients are protected. Recently, President Trump’s offered a citizenship policy for all young immigrants and included large monies for a border wall and limited family sponsorship (legal migration) but it did not pass (Fram & Freking, 2018). The demographic divide in the Republican Party provides support for the proposed Dream Act of 2018 to pass. Research shows that by 57% to 34%, Republicans younger than 50 support a policy to grant permanent legal status to immigrants who came to the U.S. as undocumented (Tyson, 2018). Eighty percent of Democrats support citizenship for undocumented children (Tyson, 2018).
The proposed Dream Act of 2018 is needed to give Dreamers the basic human right to earn a living wage. There are 2.1 million Dreamers who are the primary stakeholders and the majority are Mexican immigrants (Schmid, 2013). American citizens are stakeholders who will benefit from young immigrant group contributing to our tax base. Young immigrants buy American goods and services stimulating our economy. President Trump is a stakeholder whose conservative voting bloc does not advocate citizenship. Congress and Senate members are stakeholders whose position is shaped by their constituents, loyalty to the President and personal beliefs. Employees of the U.S, Citizenship and Immigration Service are stakeholders. Border patrol and the National Guard are stakeholders who may risk harm to themselves. Businessmen and agricultural landowners are stakeholders who need immigrant workers.
Realistic consensus among stakeholders must work to narrow the issue, address the reasons for Republican resistance, and increase overall public support through education. Republican senators will negotiate with Democrats as they did in 2013, creating a bill based on a merit point-based citizenship path (Preston, 2013). However, there were too many stakeholders including agriculture growers and technology companies for that major policy change to pass (Preston, 2013). A new Dream act is needed because the Dream Act of 2017 has been in subcommittees since July, 2017 (“The Dream Act,” 2017).
The policy proposed is the merit-based Dream Act of 2018, a mixed policy model with the incremental model predominating with rational political elements. One policy option is to include all Dreamer (undocumented or DACA documented). The other option is to include only DACA documented young adults. This proposal includes all Dreamers because those not DACA documented have no citizenship rights. This option alleviates the most hardships for the most young adults. It is in harmony with the National Association of Social Worker’s directive to prevent and eliminate discrimination while empowering individuals.
Building a coalition of public and private supporters called the Our Dream Coalition is the first step in passage of the new Dream Act of 2018. The second step is to advocate for the proposed Dream Actor of 2018. The Our Dream Coalition’s mission statement is, “Together we can succeed as citizens.” DACA coalitions already exist but this coalition will focus on bill passage and education to correct immigrant misconceptions. The second step includes formulating the bill and introducing the bill to the Senate and Congress in 2018.
The Our Dream Coalition will consist of social workers, DACA recipients, Catholic Charities U.S.A., the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Immigration Council. DACA recipients provide personal narrative impact. Catholic Charities U.S.A. provides an extensive local outreach communication system through its universities and churches. Catholic Charities has already urged President Trump to continue DACA. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides an authority voice and large membership base. Research show how lack of citizenship hurts health (Uwemadimo et al., 2017). The American Immigration Council is a source of recent immigration law defense. Paul Zulkie is board chairman who has testified before Congress and would lend expertise to bill passage (“American Immigration Council Board,” n.d.). The coalition would have a communication, and education and a legislative task force.
The Our Dream communication task force would have two tasks. One task would be to maintain a website that would engage the general public. The second task would be to maintain communication with member organizations to encourage their membership support. The coalition website should be user-friendly. It would include the proposed bill outline, a call for support by clicking on a petition button, emailing, calling or writing a legislator information with links, local church and university addresses by state, event information, membership information, a donation request and a link to the fact sheets of the American Immigration Council. A blogging column could be an empowerment tool for DACA recipients. The communication task force would send newsletters, distribute flyers, print facts in church bulletins, and conduct forums. School forums could generate grassroots movements.
An education task force would educate legislators and the public. Data for legislator concerns is emailed to legislators and displayed on the website. For example, some believe that immigrants overload our social welfare system. First generation children including DACA recipients pay more in taxes over their lifetime than they receive in benefits (Bier, 2017). DACA has not led to an increase in illegal Mexican immigration. Illegal Mexican immigration has slowed due to Mexico’s improved job outlook (Zong and Batalova, 2016). Without DACA, our Gross Domestic Product would lose $460 billion over the next decade. In fact, Texas would lose $6 billion in 10 years if DACA was discontinued (Svajlenka & Bautista-Chavez, 2017). The American Immigration Council publishes state specific immigrant data that would be sent to the respective legislators.
The legislative task force would create a bill with three steps to citizenship modeled after the Dream Act of 2017 (“The Dream Act,” 2017). Step 1 gives conditional permanent residence. It includes anyone entering the U.S. under the age of 18 and has been continuously present for three years. They must be attending higher education, received a high school diploma or GED, and not convicted of a crime with a sentence of more than 1 year. Step 2 allows anyone who has conditional permanent residence to move to lawful permanent residence if they have been in higher education or the military for two years or employed for three years. Step 3 moves to citizenship after three years of lawful status reduced to two years if still in the military or still pursuing higher education. (“The Dream Act,” 2017). It is a simplified version that has three 3- year requirements for nine years of continuous residency, or seven/eight years for college attendees or military personnel. English language proficiency and initial health exam would apply. The 2017 Dream Act has longer residency requirements. This proposal allows immigrants and the Immigration Bureau to better track progess. David Kerwin of the Migration Policy Institute has stated, “Congress has consistently found it necessary to legalize discrete immigrant population that has fallen outside the legal immigration system (Kerwin, 2010, p. 10).”
The legislative task force would organize coalition advocacy at the major points of bill passage. Coalition lobbying to both House and Senate Judiciary subcommittee members would occur when the bill is assigned to committee. Senate Subcommittee Border and Immigration Chair Senator John Cornyn (R-T) and Minority Ranking Member Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) are strategic players. Senator Durbin supports legislation for all Dreamers. In the House, Chair Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R- VA) is an adversary while Minority Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is a defender of immigrants.
The subcommittee would be addressed by a coalition professional testimony. Emails would be sent including state specific immigration fact sheets from the American Immigration Council. Local press would be sent the same information. As the bill is introduced to full committee and then to both floors, a support plea to email legislators would be sent to coalition members. The coalition would monitor negotiation in conference committee. Texting the President would be appropriate!
Outcome Policy Evaluation
Successful passage of the proposed legislation would be evaluated by measuring improvement in the lives of Dreamers. Outcome evaluation data can be provided by the Immigration and Citizenship Bureau. Social research would provide evidence of effectiveness. Research questions after passage would include: Was the poverty rate decreased?; How many Dreamers were able to increase their salaries?; What characteristics are associated with citizenship application?. Since citizenship is not immediate, studies would be longitudinal. The Our Dream Coalition would show the public that such legislation for immigrants is worthy.
The proposed Dream Act of 2018 is based on research showing DACA recipients’ success in improving their standard of living. The American economy would suffer without the benefit of Dreamer workers and consumers. A simplified version of past failed Dream Acts was proposed with a realization that some security monies may be amended to the act. The Our Dream Coalition was proposed to create support by correcting misconceptions about young immigrants. The words of Emma Lazaruz on the Statue of liberty are at the heart of this bill proposal, “Give me your tired, you’re poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
- American Immigration Council Board. (n.d). Retrieved from http// www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/board
- Bier, David. Perspective | Five Myths about DACA. 7 Sept. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-daca/2017/09/07/e444675a-930c-11e7-8754-d478688d23b4_story.html.
- Cummins, Linda K., et al. Policy Practice for Social Workers: New Strategies for a New Era. Prentice Hall, 2011.
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- Svajlenka, Nicole Prchal. A New Threat to DACA Could Cost States Billions of Dollars. 21 July 2017, www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2017/07/21/436419/new-threat-daca-cost-states-billions-dollars/.
- Tyson, Alec. Public Backs Legal Status for Immigrants Brought to U.S. Illegally as Children, but Not a Bigger Border Wall. 19 Jan. 2018, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/19/public-backs-legal-status-for-immigrants-brought-to-u-s-illegally-as-children-but-not-a-bigger-border-wall/.
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