The following is an op-ed from Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson.
January is often accompanied by a sense of optimism and hope for the year ahead. But for Dreamers (children born in this country to undocumented immigrant parents), the start of 2018 brings continued uncertainty, as the program that has kept them protected from deportation still remains in jeopardy.
In September, the Trump administration announced plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program effective on March 5. This placed the fate of over 800,000 Dreamers in the hands of Congress. Now, more than four months later, Congress has yet to introduce legislation to maintain the program.
Due to the lengthy process of implementing a permanent solution through the Department of Homeland Security, legislation must be passed this month in order to be effective by March. Every day that this issue remains unresolved, 1,700 Dreamers will be in danger of losing their jobs and will face immediate risk of deportation.
Without the quick action of our legislators, 3,062 Dreamers who have been lifelong Kentucky citizens, will be forced out of the only home they have ever known. These Dreamers are not just our friends and neighbors; they are our coworkers and local business owners. They are future innovators and students at our universities.
The DACA-eligible population has done more than its fair share to contribute to our local economies, workplaces, and educational institutions.
Despite controversy that undocumented youths take money away from the state economy, the reality is that in Kentucky 90.5 percent of DACA participants who are at least 16 years old are employed. Annually, they account for more than $10 million in total tax revenue.
Not only are Dreamers contributing to federal and local economies through paying taxes and expanding commerce, they are some of the best and brightest at state universities. These students are working to earn degrees that will benefit local employers and their communities in the future. They add diversity to our campuses giving all students a more global education and opportunity to learn.
The clock is ticking to institute a permanent solution to protect a sector of the workforce that is vital to the sustainability of the economy. It is estimated that Kentucky will lose $5.1 million every year after DACA is suspended, and the U.S. will lose $460 billion in GDP over the next decade.
The economic impact compounded with the loss of eager and talented youth who could be future catalysts for growth in professional fields across the spectrum would be devastating for Kentucky.
These Dreamers have spent their formative years as citizens of the United States; a country that prides itself on the possibility of starting from the bottom and making it to the top through hard work and persistence. Allowing DACA to be abolished would not only shatter the principle of the American dream, but also taint the all-encompassing idea that people should be judged on their work ethic and talent rather than their background.
Dreamers have made countless contributions to our state and are only asking one thing in return; the chance to remain in the United States and continue to pursue the opportunities they have been diligently working towards.
As University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto recently told the Kentucky Chamber’s board of directors, “our economic progress will be hindered and our humanity compromised” if DACA is not maintained. An immigration solution cannot wait any longer. The livelihood of Dreamers is at stake and any further delay will force hundreds of thousands out of their homes, schools, and careers.
We are confident that by working together, we can create a solution that is conducive for both sides and protects Dreamers here in Kentucky and across the nation.