If the president signed legislation passed by Congress to blatantly waste in excess of $100 billion, reject an easy and painless way to extend the solvency of Social Security, and gift nations in a position to undermine the American economy the resources to do so the howling on the Left and the Right would pierce your eardrums.
Yet that is exactly what could happen if Washington, D.C., doesn’t clean up the immigration mess that inaction on the part of both parties has created by passing a version of the Development, Relief, for Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that was first introduced in 2010.
The DREAM Act is what can make the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program a workable solution instead of a temporary Band-Aid to a vexing problem that is in the absolute best interest of the United States to solve.
This is not a Republican versus Democrat issue in California and certainly not in the Valley. Both ex-Congressman Jeff Denham and current Congressman Josh Harder were lead sponsors in the House on different attempts to push a version of the DREAM Act forward. Harder even picked up on Denham’s unsuccessful legislative end-run around DREAM Act opposition by pushing the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training (ENLIST) Act to allow those with DACA status a clear path to obtain a green card for permanent legal residence status by serving in the military.
The proposed legislation and DACA refer to those who were under 16 when they were brought into this country illegally by their parents who also are not legal immigrants.
The goal of the original DREAM Act in 2001 authored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) was to provide a path to citizenship for those that qualify for DACA status. They had to have entered the United States before they turned 16, prove they have lived here for five consecutive years, be between the ages of 12 and 35 (remember this was in 2001), and if they are male over 18 must register with the Selective Service. They could also not be a convicted felon, be a gang member or have more than two misdemeanors.
They qualify for conditional residency status under those conditions and permanent residency status if they serve for two years in the military or attend an institute of higher education for two years.
The 2001 bill also included funding for 165 more immigration judges and 29 immigration attorneys to address the backlog of cases.
There are an estimated 750,000 individuals that various government agencies indicate qualify for DACA status including 200,000 in California. Some non-government agencies put the number qualifying for DACA status at 1.8 million.
Let’s say you fall among those who don’t believe American taxpayers should be funding education even in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade or any other “assistance” such as medical care for those who came here illegally as minors.
It’s a legitimate position one can argue with one major flaw — we are paying for education and medical care for those under 18 regardless of their immigration status.
In 2017 the Census Bureau reported the average tax dollars spent in public schools TK-12 per year educating a student was $12,200. That’s $156,000 per student over 13 years.
Forgetting tax dollars spent on medical expenses and other services such youth can legally access that are here illegally, the education tab alone exceeds $100 billion for the 750,000 individuals.
That is $100 billion that American taxpayers have invested.
Why would we want to throw that away?
Better yet, why would we want to send young people we have educated back to countries that may never have invested a dime in them so they can strengthen their economy instead of ours? And in the case of Mexico, they could elevate the economy south of the border to the point it hurts industries in this country.
If we take out the uncertainty it will only elevate the economic capabilities of the 750,000 people in question. It also assures the United States of 750,000 educated workers going forward that gainfully employed pay income taxes including Social Security taxes.
House passage of the Dream and Promise Act in June 2019 — the latest reincarnation of the original DREAMers Act — prompted Congressman Harder to note there are 10,000 immigrants who are viewed as being here illegally but were raised and educated in the San Joaquin Valley that would benefit.
The truth is 4.3 million people in the San Joaquin Valley would benefit from getting a version of the DREAM Act signed into law. These are 10,000 educated people we need to be able to help grow the valley’s economy.
It is true we could stay in limbo and create the same “positive” workforce impacts but what purpose does that serve? It certainly doesn’t create a situation where the impacted people will feel comfortable living up to their full potential which in turn is a drag on the economy.
Until the issue is addressed, there will always be an ax that can fall.
The reason Harder can speak to the intelligence and drive of those that would qualify for permanent residency status if DREAM Act style legislation becomes the land of the land is simple. He taught a number of such students at Modesto Junior College.
What makes the entire quagmire more bizarre is not simply the fact we are — except for indigenous people — a nation of immigrants, but we benefit immensely from first generation immigrations who overwhelmingly have a drive to succeed whether it is running a business that creates jobs for others, excelling in medical and teaching fields or simply hard workers hell-bent on building a better life for their families which in turn benefits everyone else. The rising ships analogy aptly describes what immigration has meant to this country as a whole since the dawn of the republic.
And in case we are wondering about the drive of those that choose to embrace America and make those their home instead of simply be born here, we have to look no further than Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa.
Although he never would have qualified for DACA status as he jumped the fence near Calexico at 19 to work as an illegal immigrant picking vegetables to simply feed his family, he is an example of what goes right for this country when people with drive immigrate here.
Quinones-Hinojosa advanced quickly up crew ranks. He wanted more. He ended up in Stockton working shoveling sulfur and scrapping fish lard from tankers while putting himself through Delta College.
From there it was the University of California at Berkeley and then Harvard Medical School. Ten years after entering the United States illegally, he became an American citizen.
Today Quinones-Hinojosa is one of the nation’s leading neurosurgeons.
It is clear we need to do something to better control legal and illegal immigration.
The target of DACA and various DREAM Act attempts need to be viewed from what it has cost us and what we will lose by not putting 750,000 people we have paid to educate on firm legal ground.
The DREAM Act is somewhat selfish from an American perspective as it makes sure that the $100 billion we have invested over the years in education alone will benefit the United States and not some other country.
Opening a clear path for citizenship for DREAMers is the right thing to do.
If you don’t support favoring a permanent residency path being put in place it means you favor deporting the 750,000 as illegal immigrants. Taking such a stance you need to ask yourself this: Does it make sense to invest $100 billion in educating DACA qualifiers and then throwing them overboard?
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.