Imagine being deported from the only country you know. You are forced to leave your family, friends, and community to live somewhere where you do not know anyone. You have few if any memories of living there, and you may not even know the language.
Having worked with refugee populations, I have witnessed this fear and uncertainty first hand. Approximately 700,000 young people known as “Dreamers” live in fear of deportation every day. Brought to the U.S. as children by no choice of their own, Dreamers live in limbo because they lack permanent legal documentation. Many Dreamers are currently working or going to school legally under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) permits; the average DACA recipient was brought to the U.S. at only 6-years-old and has considered the U.S. their home for 22 years. They are as American as anyone you will meet.
Many Dreamers grow up thinking they are U.S. citizens, only to learn otherwise when they try to get a driver’s license or apply to college. They consider themselves fully American, yet they cannot plan for their futures here.
Dreamers lost what little stability DACA provided them when President Donald J. Trump rescinded the program in 2017. Dreamers then spent three years mired in uncertainty as the Trump administration fought in court to keep DACA gone. While the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration terminated DACA in an unlawful manner and the Biden administration has committed to keeping the program in place, DACA is not immune to future legal challenges. Without legislation permanently protecting Dreamers, these young people will always live in fear that DACA will be overturned by a capricious judge.
Immigrants have always been foundational to the American story, and “Dreamers” are no different.
Even former President Ronald Reagan said in his final speech in office, “If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
If we turn our backs on Dreamers, who wish nothing more than to be considered fully American, what does that say about us as a country?
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have long recognized that Dreamers need a permanent legislative solution. The DREAM Act introduced earlier this year would grant law-abiding Dreamers the ability to remain in the U.S. to work, go to school, and/or serve in the military while they work toward U.S. citizenship. This bill would allow them to pursue the American Dream without fear of deportation.
President Joe Biden supports the bill, and the House passed the bill on a bipartisan vote in March. The Democratic Senate and our Montana’s own Senator Jon Tester now have a historic opportunity to pass the bipartisan DREAM Act and protect Dreamers before they face any more legal challenges. The time to help Dreamers is now, and we cannot let this chance go to waste.
Pari Kemmick is a longtime advocate for refugee and immigrant communities. She previously worked in Utah with refugee populations and in California with the International Rescue Committee. She lives in Billings.