Note: this op-ed was originally published in The Day on January 10, 2018.
In recent weeks, we have heard renewed discussion in Congress regarding our outdated immigration laws. Given the present dysfunctional climate, I do not hold out much hope for a comprehensive agreement to modernize our existing immigration laws. But our elected leaders should at least consider acting on legislation that will address the plight of our so-called “Dreamers.” Doing so will make a world of difference in the lives of over 800,000 young people across the United States.
Dreamers had received protected status after the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But since the program’s end was announced, the last few months have been clouded with uncertainty as Congress weighs a solution to their future.
The irony facing Dreamers is that their place in our economy is already solidified and measured – they are getting an education, starting businesses, serving in our military, and contributing to our economy. Yet, their version of the American Dream is now out of their hands. It is time for Congress to acknowledge these facts and move toward a sensible solution that allows them to stay here and carry out their dreams. Only then can we truly work toward modernizing our entire immigration system.
According to research by New American Economy, Connecticut is home to more than half a million people who were born abroad, including 13,195 residents who are DACA-eligible. A staggering 87 percent of those who are DACA-eligible, and at least 16 years old, are employed. With their high level of employment, it is not surprising that Connecticut’s DACA-eligible recipients earn over $208 million a year and pay $33 million in taxes.
Some may argue that foreign-born individuals are taking away jobs from those born in the United States. This is not the case. In our state alone, 73,407 people are employed at immigrant-owned firms. Immigrants are starting businesses that enhance our innovation, creating jobs for all Americans, and adding significantly to our economic well-being.
If we want to create more jobs and compete globally, our nation needs to welcome this talented pool of individuals and not turn them away. Updating our immigration policies will not only add to our economic security, it will also end the unfairness and uncertainty for so many young people who find themselves in a difficult situation through no fault of their own.
Congress should enact long overdue legislation that protects Dreamers, allowing them to move on with their lives and become proud and productive American citizens.
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Tony Sheridan is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and a former first selectman of Waterford. He emigrated from Ireland at age 19.