We all ben­e­fit if we pro­tect the ‘dream­ers’

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY JANET NAPOLITANO

Five years ago this week, when I was sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity, we be­gan ac­cept­ing the first De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (DACA) ap­pli­ca­tions from “dream­ers” who had been brought to this coun­try with­out doc­u­men­ta­tion when they were chil­dren. I will never for­get that day: Tens of thou­sands of some of the best and bright­est young peo­ple in our coun­try ap­plied to the pro­gram and cel­e­brated their abil­ity to live, work and learn in the only na­tion most of them had ever known.

Since that time, nearly 800,000 dream­ers have gone through the rig­or­ous ap­pli­ca­tion process and re­ceived DACA’s pro­tec­tions against de­por­ta­tion, in­clud­ing more than 100,000 who have had their ap­pli­ca­tions re­newed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

To­day, how­ever, our na­tion’s dream­ers face an un­cer­tain fu­ture. Ten Repub­li­can state at­tor­neys gen­eral are threat­en­ing to sue Pres­i­dent Trump if he does not re­peal DACA by Sept. 5. Worse, it seems un­likely that At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions will de­fend the pro­gram. Dur­ing his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, he said it “would cer­tainly be con­sti­tu­tional” to elim­i­nate DACA.

As a for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral and gov­er­nor of Ari­zona, U.S. sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity (and DACA ar­chi­tect dur­ing my ten­ure with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion), and now pres­i­dent of the largest pub­lic re­search uni­ver­sity sys­tem in the world, I have seen the con­se­quences of our bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem at ev­ery level. In 2012, we took a step for­ward by im­ple­ment­ing DACA. We should not take a step back­ward now. Pro­tect­ing dream­ers is smart, ef­fec­tive pol­icy that en­sures our lim­ited law en­force­ment re­sources are spent on those who pose a risk to our com­mu­ni­ties, not on those who con­trib­ute to our state and na­tional economies ev­ery day.

To qual­ify for DACA, dream­ers must be in high school or have a diploma or be a veteran, among other re­quire­ments. They can­not have been con­victed of a felony or ma­jor mis­de­meanor.

Wast­ing en­force­ment re­sources to de­port such up­stand­ing com­mu­nity mem­bers doesn’t make us safer; it does the op­po­site. That is why po­lice chiefs from across the coun­try sup­port pro­tect­ing dream­ers. And the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Bor­der Pa­trol Coun­cil, which rep­re­sents U.S. agents work­ing to pro­tect our na­tion’s borders and which en­dorsed Trump for pres­i­dent, sup­ports keep­ing DACA in­tact.

Main­tain­ing DACA boosts our econ­omy, es­pe­cially in states with high per­cent­ages of im­mi­grants such as Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and Texas. Dream­ers pay taxes. Nearly 55 per­cent of them have bought cars. Some 12 per­cent have bought homes, and 6 per­cent have launched busi­nesses that cre­ate jobs for U.S. cit­i­zens. They pro­vide a di­rect eco­nomic ben­e­fit to our com­mu­ni­ties and the na­tion as a whole.

As Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia pres­i­dent, I also see the ex­cep­tional con­tri­bu­tions that young dream­ers make to our coun­try. Most are the first in their fam­i­lies to at­tend col­lege, and they work hard to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tions. Some are pur­su­ing PhDs and have am­bi­tious, hu­man­i­tar­ian goals, such as work­ing to cure can­cer. They rep­re­sent the very best of our coun­try. They em­body the spirit of the Amer­i­can dream.

Trump can and should con­tinue this pro­gram, but Congress also has the power and re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect dream­ers. Repub­li­can Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (S.C.) and Demo­crat Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) have rein­tro­duced the Dream Act, which would pro­vide a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion for the dream­ers. This bill al­ready has bi­par­ti­san mo­men­tum in the House and Se­nate. It would al­low th­ese young peo­ple, most of whom have lived in the United States for nearly their en­tire lives, the op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue to live, work and con­trib­ute to our coun­try and, af­ter a long ap­pli­ca­tion process and ad­di­tional back­ground checks to travel a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship. Trump can fol­low through on his com­mit­ment to “deal with DACA with heart” by con­tin­u­ing the pro­gram and call­ing on Congress to pass the Dream Act.

Five years ago when DACA was es­tab­lished, I said, “Our na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion laws must be en­forced in a firm and sen­si­ble man­ner, but they are not de­signed to be blindly en­forced. Nor are they de­signed to re­move pro­duc­tive young peo­ple to coun­tries where they may not have lived or even speak the lan­guage.” For the past five years, th­ese young dream­ers have proven that, when given the op­por­tu­nity to con­trib­ute, they ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions. It is time to un­lock the full po­ten­tial of th­ese ex­cep­tional young peo­ple by mak­ing th­ese pro­tec­tions per­ma­nent.

The writer, U.S. sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity from 2009 to 2013, is pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia.

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