Alaska Voices: Lawmakers must fight for Dreamers

DACA recipients have proven themselves to be hardworking members of our communities

  • Thursday, July 16, 2020 1:46am
  • Opinion

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was much needed positive news during these challenging times.

This ruling temporarily lifts the stress and burden of the threat of deportation from the nearly 700,000 young immigrants protected under the program — in addition to our communities and economy that benefit from their contributions — but further legislative action is needed to ensure DACA recipients can remain in the U.S.

The DACA program was established to allow young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to work and study here without fear of being deported.

Since the program was enacted in 2012, DACA recipients have proven themselves to be hardworking members of our communities. In fact, 96% of DACA recipients are either employed or enrolled in school. When the Trump administration suspended the program in 2017, it threw the lives of nearly 700,000 young men and women into chaos. Fortunately, because of the recent Supreme Court decision, they can continue contributing to this country — for now.

As a young businessperson who manages the day-to-day operations of multiple stores in Anchorage, I find it important to recognize the value of the immigrant workers contributing to our state and nation. Immigrants make up 11% of the labor force in Alaska, and employ 12,099 Alaskans. Further, DACA recipients contribute $5.6 billion in federal taxes along with $3.1 billion in state and local taxes every year. They also carry an annual $24 billion in spending power. Additionally, business owners recognize the importance of DACA recipients’ contributions and are among those urging elected officials to uphold the DACA program.

Aside from what’s at stake for America’s economy, DACA recipients are currently fighting on the COVID-19 frontlines to address this pandemic, with 43,500 DACA recipients in the health care and social assistance industries, among other roles. And although they’re facing uncertainty surrounding their immigration status, they continue to risk it all to help fight COVID-19 and protect their fellow Americans.

It’s clear that the deportation of DACA recipients would lead to severe economic and community consequences, which we cannot afford. To ensure this doesn’t happen, a permanent legislative solution is needed.

And although the current administration has renewed their calls to end the DACA program, momentum continues to heavily sway on the side of Dreamers. Polling shows that there is bipartisan agreement among voters to provide Dreamers with permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship.

Bipartisan legislation that would achieve this — the American Dream and Promise Act — already passed in the House, but now the onus is on the Senate to pass the bill and send it to the president’s desk. I’m thankful for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s willingness to fight for Dreamers and for recognizing that “[t]hey should have the right to work and a path to citizenship.”

I’m confident that Sen. Murkowski and her colleagues will continue to fight for what is right and finally pass permanent protections for Dreamers. Through their hard work and determination, they’ve earned the right to stay here, and we need them now, more than ever.

Neal Koeneman is a lifelong Alaskan, an avid outdoorsman, and the general manager of Steamdot Coffee.

• By Neal Koeneman

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