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Denham backs Dreamers
Town hall audience urges congressman to do more for undocumented
Denham DREAMers
Congressman Jeff Denham has been known to support Dreamers in the past, introducing the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act, or the ENLIST Act, which gives qualified young undocumented immigrants the chance to earn citizenship in the United States through enlistment in the military. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Congressman Jeff Denham is standing by his call for the federal government to go easy on treatment of children living in the United States who are the offspring of those who immigrated here illegally.

Denham responded to President Trump's call to end the Obama-era executive action that protects so-called "Dreamers." Trump called for Congress to act within six months to pass legislation for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, or Dreamers, or see the program end. Without Congressional action, millions of Dreamers could face deportment but so far many Republicans in Congress have indicated they are willing to back such a plan.

"We should be dedicating our resources to securing our borders and deporting the violent criminals preying on our communities, not going after individuals who were brought to America as children through no fault of their own," said Denham in a statement released yesterday. "The government asked these young men and women to come out of the shadows, and they have passed background checks, opened bank accounts, gotten jobs, enrolled in our universities - all positive contributions to our society and our economy. To target them now is wrong. We have several widely-supported immigration reform bills already introduced this Congress, in both the House and the Senate, that would address a path forward for DACA recipients. We must act immediately to pass these if we're to meet the president's six-month deadline."

The DACA program was put in place by former President Obama in 2012, and allows undocumented immigrants who arrive in the U.S. as minors to apply for two-year work permits and shields them from deportation. Trump's announcement Tuesday will affect 787,000 Dreamers, 97 percent of who are working or in school.

On Aug. 29, Denham sat down with Valley "dreamer" Tomas Evangelista to both reaffirm his support for dreamers and the DACA program, and call on both sides of Congress to join together to pass legislation to protect Dreamers from a potential DACA repeal.

Denham pointed out the 25,000 DACA-eligible individuals living in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties who are significant drivers of the local economy. Eliminating DACA without first passing a permanent legislative replacement would cost the California economy almost $411 billion in annual GDP, he said.

"Congress needs to act now to find a legislative solution for Dreamers who for years have been stuck in limbo," said Denham. "Recent events only highlight the urgency of determining a path forward for those young adults, and I will continue to fight for them to be able to stay in the only home they have ever known."

Evangelista was brought to the United States as an infant and was able to transform his life thanks to the DACA program, he said, which allowed him to pursue a higher education and earn a degree in kinesiology from Stanislaus State. Today, he works as a program manager for the nonprofit Latino Leadership Council, where he helps homeless citizens connect to the care they need.

A repeal of the program would have devastating effects not just for Dreamers as a whole, said Evangelista, but on his personal life as well.

"Barring renewals to the DACA program would force me from my job, and I would be made a priority for deportation," he said. "I hope Congress will pass a legislative solution that would allow hundreds of thousands of us Dreamers to continue contributing to our communities and serve the country we love and call home."

Denham has been known to support Dreamers in the past, introducing the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training Act, or the ENLIST Act, which gives qualified young undocumented immigrants the chance to earn citizenship in the United States through enlistment in the military. He has also co-sponsored the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow our Economy, or the BRIDGE Act, as well as the Recognizing America's Children Act. The BRIDGE Act aims to protect Dreamers from immigration should the DACA program be discontinued, while the RAC Act supplements BRIDGE, making those protections permanent.

On Thursday, residents of Denham's 10th Congressional District held a town hall event, to which Denham was invited but did not attend, and discussed the Affordable Care Act, climate change, civil rights and the DACA program.

Though Denham has done much to advocate for Dreamers, admitted the town hall's immigration panelist Priya Murthy, she said the congressman is supporting bills on the weaker side of the DACA-protection spectrum.

"Now is not a time to be meek; now is the time to be bold and provide as many protections as possible," said Murthy. "He is the author of the ENLIST Act...obviously we know that Denham has a track record of supporting veterans and supporting the military, so that's why he wanted to chart that out as a path; however, there are other ways that individuals may want to contribute to society other than by joining the military."

Murthy suggested the writing of bills that provide pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, such as educational roles or vocational trades.

The BRIDGE Act doesn't provide a pathway for citizenship for DACA recipients, added Murthy, but puts the DACA program into law, rather than enforcing it through executive order, and the RAC Act makes immigrants jump through even more hurdles to become protected, she said.

"He has co-sponsored those, but again, they don't provide a pathway to citizenship for everybody," said Murthy.

Murthy and other advocates at the town hall argued that the citizenship process in America should be fixed first and foremost, so those who want to become citizens can do so without signing up for the military, as the ENLIST Act suggests.

"That's really what we need right now, not just for DACA recipients, but for all undocumented community members who live here," said Murthy.