Tuesday, I will be inside the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As I listen, my heart will be with Dreamers from across the country who will travel to Washington to stand outside as nine justices consider the cases that will likely decide their future. I will be thinking of Dreamers in New Jersey such as Manny Sanchez, 20, who has lived in the United States since he was a month old; Adriana Medina, who came here at age four and today is a mother of three U.S.-born American children; and Deisy Perez, who, at 22, is the oldest of three siblings and the main breadwinner, translator and driver for her family.
The story of DACA is a story I have come to tell with a great sense of pride and patriotism. After years of fearless advocacy by the Dreamers, the government asked them for their trust and faith. Nearly 700,000 Dreamers — including almost 17,000 in New Jersey — came out of the shadows, passed criminal background checks and paid fees. Despite the risks, these young people voluntarily handed over personal information about themselves and their families to some of the very same authorities they had been forced to hide from for most of their lives.
We have arrived at this critical moment in our nation’s history because of President Donald Trump’s heartless and unilateral decision in 2017 to end DACA. The administration’s claim that the program is unlawful couldn’t be further from the truth. As someone who worked for years to convince the Obama administration to create this program, I know that prosecutorial discretion is essential to law enforcement agencies at every level of government — including the Department of Homeland Security. In a world of limited resources, law enforcement must be able to prioritize which cases to pursue.
Trump used to talk about protecting America’s Dreamers, even claiming to “have a love for these people.” It quickly became clear that the president, his immigration adviser Stephen Miller and their white nationalist allies saw these upstanding young people as nothing more than bargaining chips in their quest to implement a radical anti-immigrant agenda. To this day, Senate Republicans have denied a vote on the House-passed American Dream and Promise Act. Instead, they offer temporary reprieve for Dreamers in exchange for funding an ineffective wall at the southern border, altering the entire legal immigration system to slash family reunification and making it harder for asylum-seekers to be admitted into our country.
Even before DACA, Dreamers were an integral part of our country. Most have lived the majority of their lives in the United States and only pledge allegiance to the American flag. These young men and women are employed and many are entrepreneurs employing workers of their own. According to House Democrats, a quarter of DACA recipients over age 25 have bought their first home. DACA recipients contribute a net $3.4 billion to the U.S. Treasury and $42 billion in annual GDP, and many of them are willing to wear our uniform and make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our freedoms as members of the U.S. armed forces.
Dreamers’ lives are intertwined with ours. Even in these politically polarized times, the vast majority of the American people support providing Dreamers with a path to citizenship. These are the immigrants that we should embrace and protect, not vilify and throw back into the shadows again.
Although we won’t have a decision Tuesday, I will walk into the court with the faith and hope that Dreamers will remain protected by our government. And I will take this opportunity to recommit to fighting for them in Congress. We need to permanently lift the cloud over their heads and give them the freedom and opportunities that will allow them to reach their God-given potential.
Think about it. Despite the past few years of frightening uncertainty, Dreamers continue to inspire us with their courage and determination to keep the dream alive. Every day, they continue going to school, serving our country, starting businesses and raising families — all while organizing, raising their voices and fighting for the lasting and permanent pathway to citizenship they deserve. Simply put, Dreamers are working hard to shape our nation for the better. If that’s not what it means to be an American, then I don’t know what is.
No amount of hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric can dim the hopes and dreams of these young people. Their dedication and resolve will continue to inspire our fight for what is right. Being American is more than just having a piece of paper. It’s about living our American ideals, working hard to build a better future for your children and grandkids, weaving your life story into our diverse quilt of history.
I cannot think of a better group today that personifies what it means to be American than Dreamers. They deserve the legal recognition that matches their American identity in the same country we all call home.