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From the outside Dreamers don’t seem different than anyone else living in the United States. They look, sound, and act like other Americans. They went to elementary school and high school here. Some joined the military. Others got jobs or started businesses. They are part of the fabric of their local communities and the country.
The only difference is their legal status. They’re Americans except on paper. Through no fault of their own, they’re living in the U.S. illegally, because they came here with their families when they were young.
To give them temporary legal status in 2012, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Nearly 800,000 people are part of it.
But DACA was just a temporary fix.
In September, the Justice Department announced it is ending the DACA program, which will be effectively rescinded next March. President Donald Trump asked Congress to take the six months and come up with a solution. We’re still waiting.
Congress must “enact legislation protecting DACA recipients prior to year's end,” said Neil Bradley, U.S. Chamber senior vice president and chief policy officer, or else Dreamers’ lives could be upended with the threat of being deported to a country they might not even remember.
"That means they’d lose their ability to work legally. It means they would all become subject to immediate deportation," said Todd Schulte, president of immigration advocacy group, FWD, at a press conference at the U.S. Chamber.
While President Trump urged Congress to find a legislative fix, and a vast majority of the public — according to a Fox News poll, 86% favor granting Dreamers work permits — supports a solution, Congressional urgency has vanished.
"Initially the signs of bipartisan compromise were promising,” Bradley explained. “Two months have now past, and I'm sad to report that we're arguably farther away from a solution today than we were then. This is unacceptable."
Without a law protecting Dreamers, there will be severe economic consequences, a report from FWD finds. A population nearly the size of Pittsburgh could leave the workforce:
[A] total of nearly 300,000 DACA recipients, 1,700 per business day, will be removed from the workforce between March 6th and November 6th. In total, nearly 700,000 individuals who are currently employed and contributing as a productive part of the American workforce would be stripped of their ability to work and could be fired over the course of the next two years.
Removing DACA recipients from the workforce will cost $460.3 billion in GDP loss over a decade. It will cost employers $3.4 billion in unnecessary turnover costs, and would cut contributions to Medicare and Social Security by $39.3 billion over a decade.
A Dreamer entrepreneur in Georgia
One of those at-risk Dreamers contributing to the U.S. economy is entrepreneur Javier Velazquez. "I'm proud to create jobs for Americans and help our economy grow by paying taxes," he declared at the U.S. Chamber press conference.
Velazquez, 21, moved to the U.S. when he was 11 and grew up in a small Georgia town with four sisters who were born in the U.S. Velazquez went to college, where he’s working on a business and marketing degree. He also started a digital marketing business, Uproot Online, that employs six Americans.
“I now help more than 100 small businesses in the U.S. and Canada grow their digital footprint,” Velazquez explained. “As an entrepreneur, I hire and give internships to a team of marketers, web developers, and sale reps — all of whom happen to be U.S. citizens."
But his business' contributions to the community would be undercut if Congress doesn't pass a permanent solution. He "won't be able to continue operating my company efficiently or help small businesses compete in their local economy through our services. I won't be able to continue paying business taxes," Velazquez said.
Velazquez’s situation shows that yanking Dreamers out of the workforce will have a ripple effect on Americans. If Velazquez's company disappears, the U.S. Chamber's Bradley said, "one job is gone, and six other Americans' jobs are gone."
Multiply that by about 800,000 DACA recipients.
"Nobody can honestly say people are going to be better off if we deport" these young people, added FWD’s Shulte.
Dedicated, skilled Dreamer employees
While some Dreamers are entrepreneurs like Velazquez, others are the type of skilled, hard-working employees that are gold for companies.
"Just because these Dreamers don't have legal status doesn't make their contributions to our country or to our company any less valuable," said Christopher Padilla, IBM's vice president for government and regulatory affairs.
IBM employs 30 Dreamers. "They do software development, sales, technical support,” Padilla said.
Their dedication is invaluable. Padilla described one Dreamer who "worked around-the-clock shifts out of his mother's home in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, and he worked around-the-clock to keep our cloud support operations up and running throughout that hurricane.”
"That's the kind of person we want working at IBM, and that's the kind of person we want to have in this country,” Padilla said.
"When we have smart, skilled individuals who create their own companies or go to work for companies they create value, they create more jobs, and the [economic] pie grows," Bradley added.
Outside the U.S. Chamber’s front doors are banners reading, “America. Built by Dreamers,” featuring famous immigrants like Albert Einstein and Estee Lauder along with Dreamer immigrants here in the U.S. today yearning to be allowed to contribute fully to the country they know and love.
“It is unthinkable for a nation of immigrants to fail to address this crisis before these hardworking people are forced out their jobs, schools, and communities,” implored Bradley.
The ball is in Congress’ court, and the clock is ticking.