Guest Commentary | 'Dreamers' need our help right now

Guest Commentary | 'Dreamers' need our help right now

By TOM GARZA

Even if you don't follow the news regularly, you've probably been hearing a lot about DACA lately.

In 2012, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in order to protect some of the young people known as "Dreamers."

"Dreamers" are unauthorized immigrants brought to this country as children. They've grown up here and essentially only know the U.S. as their home. DACA was created as a stopgap program since the legislature was apparently unable to accomplish anything for their relief, from comprehensive immigration reform — which failed in 2006, and again in 2013 — or the earlier DREAM Act in 2001.

Now, after several years of relative protection thanks to DACA, these young people are facing yet another crisis thanks to the current administration. In September 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order terminating DACA on March 5, 2018, giving Congress the intervening six months to craft a solution. However, the president sabotaged a bipartisan bill working its way through Congress because it didn't support his efforts to drastically reduce legal immigration. If the president does genuinely care about Dreamers — as he has frequently stated — it is only as bargaining chips, not as fellow countrymen and women in need of relief.

So this is why DACA is once again dominating the news. On March 5, the rate of young people losing their DACA status, and thus becoming subject to deportation, spiked from 120 people to more than 900 people per day.

This is clearly a nationwide problem, but this issue is also relevant to us here in Champaign-Urbana. We live among these aspirational citizens, who already contribute to our community not only economically as workers and consumers, but also as members of our social fabric who bring their unique talents, experiences and strength of character to us. At the University of Illinois, they add their insights to our courses and to campus life. They are organizing not only for themselves, but also for other vulnerable people in our wider community. Indeed, they must organize, since the university offers minimal institutional support, even though it knows the clock is ticking on their status. Beyond the heroic efforts of certain staff members who work directly with our DACA students, the university claims that it cannot provide specific funding for these students due to the restrictions on state funding. However, the vast majority of UIUC's funding comes from private sources through the University of Illinois Foundation, which is under no such restrictions. Despite its proclamations of support for DACA students, the university refuses to recognize their unique predicament as they face losing their permission to work legally and thereby support themselves in order to finish their degrees. We've already started to lose these incredible students from our campus as a result.

Furthermore, whatever nominal assistance the university provides ends at the campus perimeter, even though we have Dreamers enrolled at Parkland Community College and in our secondary schools who aspire to become Illini. Indeed, dreams of finishing college could be more readily achieved for these community members, since they could continue to live at home while working toward their degrees. As our community's largest employer and self-touted leader, we must ask, is there not anything more the university could do to contribute to our shared public good? Indeed, in December, the university released its Guiding Principles with immigration and civic engagement as two of its central pillars, reaffirming its commitment to "strive to be valued local partners" based on the fact that "our history proves that access and inclusion always yield new sources of innovation, resilience and strength." (https://www.uillinois.edu/about/guiding_principles) Wouldn't committing to serving our DACA-mented students and community members take a step toward fulfilling these laudable goals?

There are DACA holders in every state of the union. They are your friends, neighbors, co-workers, employers and employees ... you probably know or have met someone who is a DACA recipient but didn't realize it because they don't look, sound or act any differently from any other young person you might meet. Indeed, the only thing that sets them apart is the technical issue of their status. If citizenship is to mean anything at all beyond being a strictly bureaucratic designation, we need to demand that our elected representatives and our community institutions act immediately to provide relief for these fellow Americans.

They've waited long enough. The time to act on their behalf is now.

Tom Garza is president of the CU Immigration Forum.

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Save the Farms wrote on March 12, 2018 at 6:03 pm

The Republicans tried to help, but the Democrats left you standing at the alter.

The bill that Trump would have signed would have put 1.8 million DACA illegals on a path to citizenship, built the wall, reduced chain migration. ended the silly Visa lottery and reduced overall immigration to a level that Americans are comfortable with.

Enough Republicans signed onto the bill that if the Democrats had joined, it would have passed.

The Democrats opted, I guess, that they'd rather collect video of DACA illegals being deported - they must figure this will get them more votes in the long run (meaning the DACA's are "disposable" as far the Democrats are concerned).

Blame the Democrats when your friends are picked up and sent to a country they've never seen - we Republicans tried to help (I thought the bill would pass - shocked me when the Dems didn't jump on).

I think the Democrats missed a once in a generation deal that is not likely to be repeated.