While most American colleges are said to tilt left, I am the president of a liberal arts college in a state that tilts right. I hear both sides regularly. In today’s echo chambers, that is an uncommon experience. Daily, I have the opportunity to learn from many sides. Our country was founded on such opportunities and the spirited debate they provoke. Such is the case with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program for young immigrants with an uncertain fate.
The idea of legal immigrant status for people brought to the United States as children is not new. It was a bipartisan idea introduced in 2001. Called the “Dream” act —Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — those addressed by it have been called “Dreamers” ever since. The bipartisan effort of Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) was laudable. Though supported by a majority of Americans (as it still is) and majorities in both parties, it could never quite muster the 60 Senate votes needed to avoid a filibuster, a hurdle no longer in place. Even now, leaders of both parties support DACA recipients.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) explained it well: “These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home.” This has weighed on President Trump, considering the average age of entry for DACA recipients is 6 1/2.
“I have indicated in the past that I’m supportive of DACA . . . no fault of their own, circumstances beyond their control,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said: “We as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents.”
I understand their support. At least 95 percent of DACA recipients are employed or in school, and 5 percent have started their own businesses. Moody’s estimates that five years after the repeal of DACA, the nation’s gross domestic product will be $105 billion less than had the program continued. Social scientists estimate that Dreamers have a lower incarceration rate than native-born Americans. DACA recipients have invested in America, and America has invested substantially in them.
I spoke recently to a DACA student I will call Rachel who was brought to this country by her parents when she was 2 years old to escape a life-threatening situation. Her parents are hard workers and have dedicated their lives to their children, two of whom are citizens and Rachel, who is not. Her grandmother applied for citizenship more than 16 years ago and is still trying. Her parents, for Rachel’s sake, could not wait. The attitude of this family is remarkable.
“My dad always taught me to pay your taxes, be generous and be honest,” Rachel says. “Even when we were struggling, my father always tithed 10 percent to the church to help our community. My dad works long hours as a landscaper, and my mom works as a housekeeper.”
I make a comment about life as a first-generation college student and Rachel, eyes moist, corrects me.
“My parents went to college before they came to America,” she says. “The jobs they have here are the ones that were available. It breaks my heart to think of what they gave up for me and my brother and sister.”
Rachel graduated from high school with a 4.1 GPA and speaks wistfully about other DACA students who did not attend college. She says: “We must not forget those young people, either.”
Despite her situation, Rachel feels no animosity. “I am very blessed,” says the neuroscience major with a minor in biochemistry and another in French.
When I ask why she wants to be a doctor, she answers: “I grew up without health care and am grateful to the doctors that took care of me in the clinics. I just want to help people.”
Active in spirit-based organizations, Rachel is a leader in fundraising efforts for a children’s hospital and remains optimistic: “I don’t want anyone to feel pity for me.”
Even when recalling the time her parents explained what to do if family members without citizenship got deported, she speaks through tears but without complaint: “DACA kids are not numbers. We are people. With stories to tell.”
Now, I am the one who is misty-eyed.
If my own daughters grow up with her attitude and perseverance, I’ll consider myself lucky indeed. The United States has always been a place for dreamers. As Jack Kennedy’s grandfather said: “We are all immigrants. It’s just a matter of a few boats.”
To want what is best for America is bipartisan. Let’s join together to protect our investment in all dreamers.