A recent Golden Girls rerun featured a 10-year-old Mario Lopez playing Mario, a star pupil of Dorothy (Bea Arthur), who writes an award-winning essay about being an American, only to be deported by INS (now known as ICE).
The 1987 episode ends with Dorothy vowing to bring him back. Thirty years later, we’re still fighting for Mario and all the other DREAMers raised in the United States, taught in American schools, and in every way American except in their immigration documentation. It has been more than 15 years since U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a bill to give DREAMers permanent residency. It’s 2018, and Congress still hasn’t passed the DREAM Act or anything resembling comprehensive immigration reform.
Instead, we have seen increasingly punitive measures, more “boots on the ground,” curtailing Constitutional rights, ending the longstanding immigration pillar of keeping families united, and walls along the southern border, in many cases requiring private property seizures. In 1996, Congress passed anti-immigrant measures that removed benefits, enhanced penalties, and mandated local data-sharing with federal enforcement agencies. Since 2001, the Border Patrol has doubled in size, and federal “border security” spending is more than all other principal federal law enforcement. Border fences in major urban areas force immigrants onto treacherous desert lands, resulting in thousands of deaths and damage to private property. Not even record-high deportations by President Obama appeased border security-only zealots.
Finally, absent meaningful, positive Congressional action, President Obama implemented DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It provides relief to recipients and their families, and benefits to their communities. They are, after all, friends and neighbors, workers, small business owners, students – in short, contributors to our country.
The Perryman Group recently studied this. Total benefits nationwide of DREAMers, considering multiplier effects, are estimated at $188.6 billion in output and $117.3 billion in income annually, with nearly 2.1 million jobs. The direct economic gains from Texas DREAMers are estimated at $11.5 billion in output and $7.2 billion in income each year; in total, they help generate $25.8 billion in annual output and 324,000 jobs. A CBS News poll found that 87 percent of Americans believe DREAMers should remain in the U.S. if, for example, they are working or going to school.
Despite their economic contributions and overwhelming public support, the Trump administration – under pressure from anti-immigrant zealots and extremist politicians – stripped DREAMers of their protections under DACA. In fact, Texas’ Attorney General has threatened a lawsuit to remove DREAMERs from the country. Trump flip-flopped and created the crisis for DREAMers, who now face a return to the days where achievements, like winning a writing contest, places them at risk.
Ultimately, we need comprehensive immigration reform — sensible public policy that acknowledges the realities of undocumented immigration, the injustices of punitive laws, and the benefits of immigration. Thoughtful reform makes our country safer and more competitive.
Those larger fixes can come later, with due deliberation. Immediately, before Feb. 8, when Congress must pass a bill to maintain government operations, we must fix the crisis created by Trump’s erratic actions, and allow DREAMers to stay in the only home they know.
Sen. Jose Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes both urban and rural constituencies and more than 350 miles of U.S.-Mexico border