Congress must act fast to reverse disastrous attack on Dreamers

In 1971, I was born in the United States, my mother, a Dutch national, and my father a US citizen.

After they split up, my mother and my older sister went back to The Netherlands. My father and I stayed in the United States.

No one asked me about the arrangement. I was a baby, and it was up to my parents to decide on where I would live and how I would grow up. I had no say in the matter whatsoever.

For Dreamers, kids brought to the United States by their parents, it’s the same kind of situation. The majority of them arrived in the country when they were very young. They grew up here, going to school just like other kids, playing sports and joining the community.

But because US immigration law is a mess – deeply flawed and in many ways vindictive and racist – these kids were in limbo. They know no other home, but aren’t full citizens either.

President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows Dreamers, as they’re called, to apply to the government for legal status that allows them to do things like get a driver’s license, work and go to college.

The goal was to take the uncertainty out of a foolish loophole in the law that punishes, unnecessarily, people who came to the US as children. It worked. The Dreamers got jobs and enrolled in school. They were able to live without fear.

The Trump administration this week continued its war on human decency with the decision to eliminate DACA.

Now, instead of dreaming about a better, more stable future, Trump has given nearly 800,000 people, many of them Latino, one more nightmare.

Protestors gather outside the Trump International Hotel to protest President Donald Trump’s plan to repeal DACA in Washington on Tuesday. Reuters | Aaron P. Bernstein

According to the US government, there are 544 people who have applied for DACA in Maine and 429 who have been approved.

Now, they are all at risk, with a potential deportation clock ticking unless Congress acts. Given the deep divisions and the explosive nature of the immigration debate, a legislative fix seems far off, if even possible.

In the meantime, more than 500 people in Maine and 800,000 national are suddenly at risk.

Imagine if one day the population of Isleboro or Staceyville or Winter Harbor was put on notice that they would have to leave Maine, and, in fact, leave the entire country.

Every man, woman and child in those towns, or the roughly 100 Maine towns with a population of around 500 or less, were told they were no longer welcome.

The order came despite the fact that they grew up in those towns, went to school there and built a life.

Imagine the disruption. The fear. The uncertainty and calamity. The human toll. That’s the road the Dreamers are walking now.

On Tuesday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting under the direction of President Donald Trump, sent that exact message to the Maine residents who are part of DACA.

Last week, Newsweek did a good job of breaking down the criteria for DACA: Immigrants had to be younger than 31 on June 15, 2012, and they had to come to the US before turning 16. And they had to be residents of the US since June 15, 2007.

According to ABC News, two-thirds of the dreamers were 10 or younger when they came to the United States. The average age of Dreamers when they arrived in the country was about six years old.

The majority of Dreamers are in Texas and California, but there are some in every state in the country, including Maine.

When individuals qualify for the program, they are able to do things most of us take for granted. They are able to get a driver’s license. Attend college. Get a job and pay taxes.

Dreamers are here and they’re making a positive difference in our country. One, Alonso Guillen, died trying to save lives in Houston.

Research conducted by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, also found that more than 91 percent of the Dreamers are employed and more than 65 percent are pursuing education that wasn’t possible before DACA.

It’s cruel that we would leave 800,000 of our neighbors in the lurch so that the president can throw red meat to his anti-immigration base.

Business leaders, colleges, members of the faith community and a broad coalition of activists, including a number of governors and members of Congress, are pushing for a better outcome.

Congress must act and must act fast.

Given the frenzy around immigration, prospects for a reasonable deal look bleak. But there is no choice but to move forward and try to fix the problem that Trump has created.

We can’t let 800,000 people fall victim to heartless political posturing and bad policy.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.