Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, instituted in 2012 under President Obama, have come under fire recently both at the state and national level.
In late June, attorneys general from 10 states except Arizona threatened to sue the Trump administration over a program that grants deportation relief and access to work permits to nearly 800,000 U.S. Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the country at a young age who have passed a comprehensive background check and met multiple criteria.
Removal of Arizona’s more than 27,000 DACA recipients would lead to an annual gross domestic product loss of $1.3 billion. Many Dreamers who were brought here in their youth are now students, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, agricultural and construction workers. In other words, they are our neighbors.
They are hard-working individuals like 21-year-old Phoenix resident Maria Gonzalez, who spoke earlier this summer at a launch event for the FWD.us Arizona Coalition comprised of Arizona business leaders, community leaders and immigration reform advocates. She was brought to the U.S. as a toddler and knows no other country. Despite both her parents being detained by immigration officials during her senior year of high school — her father was actually deported — she was able to graduate and go on to attend South Mountain Community College while working to support herself. She hopes to transfer to Arizona State University and earn a bachelor’s degree in social work.
Like hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients across the country, Gonzalez faces significant insecurity about her legal status today in the face of aggressive immigration policies being pursued at federal and state levels. The FWD.us Arizona Coalition is working to bring attention to immigration reform efforts affecting Gonzalez and others like her. It is part of FWD.us, a bipartisan group working to mobilize the tech community and other national leaders in business and civic engagement who are interested in promoting immigration and economic policies that keep the U.S. competitive in an increasingly globalized world.
The Arizona Technology Council is proud and excited to have been part of the recent Arizona coalition launch. Since we are on the front lines of the immigration debate, we also are well positioned to have a significant and positive impact on the vital issue of immigration reform.
The FWD.us Arizona Coalition will fight for DACA recipients in our state, advocating for the government to find a legislative solution like the Republican-led Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act or the recently introduced bipartisan DREAM Act, which Sen. Jeff Flake is co-sponsoring, for these individuals who came to the U.S. as children and desperately want to continue contributing to our economy.
There is simply no morally defensible reason to deport these young people. The vast majority of the 750,000 participants in the DACA program are gainfully employed or students. They are major contributors to the U.S. economy, both as workers and consumers. Forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of these Dreamers would have a significantly negative impact on our national economy, with the potential to push GDP down by as much as $400 billion over the next 10 years.
Our broken immigration system is creating uncertainty for millions of people beyond hardworking DACA recipients. Another group that faces such insecurity is high-skilled immigrants hoping to come to the U.S. via the H-1B visa. The H-1B visa allows a limited number of immigrants with specialized skills in predominantly the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields to emigrate to the U.S. for work, helping to raise wages for native-born workers and ultimately create jobs for Americans. Unfortunately, the annual number of slots allowed is relatively small and makes it difficult for American companies to innovate faster. Limited high-skilled immigration would be terrible for the U.S. economy and disastrous for Arizona technology businesses. We should be expanding this vital program, not considering cutting it.
Ultimately, we believe the best way forward is comprehensive immigration reform that provides permanent legal status and a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows today. At the same time, we must modernize our entire immigration system to better fit the realities of the 21st century and to help make the U.S. as competitive as possible in the global marketplace. This can be done without sacrificing border security or the safety of our nation by requiring those seeking citizenship to undergo a comprehensive background check, demonstrate they can speak English and pay any taxes they owe.
— Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, which is a founding member of the FWD.us Arizona Coalition. For more information about FWD.us, visit www.FWD.us.