Zessna Garcia-Rios says it’s never a good time to endure “a life changing policy shift,” but the 28-year-old DACA “Dreamer” thinks it is a good time for Congress to act on a long-term fix to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program. She’s optimistic Congress will act – even knowing the multi-faceted and divisive politics related to immigration.
Speaking to Talk Business & Politics two days after President Donald Trump rescinded the DACA program with a six-month delay to give Congress a chance to address the issue, Garcia-Rios said she was calmer about the situation. She had been public and emotional the day of Trump’s decision, providing interviews to several media outlets.
“I’ve had a whole day to think about this situation. … I’ve come to a bit of a realization that DACA wasn’t supposed to be permanent. It was a temporary solution to a much bigger, a much more complicated issue,” she said.
It indeed is a complicated issue, and, like Garcia-Rios’ initial response, a source of strong emotions.
DACA was put in place with an executive order by President Barack Obama in 2012. President Obama, who once opposed such an action, said he was forced to protect the children of unauthorized immigrants because Congress had not addressed the issue in more than a decade.
The DACA program prescribed by President Obama’s order allows unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16 the right to remain in the country as long as they are in school or holding a job. They also must not have a criminal conviction. DACA permits must be renewed every two years. Also, DACA participants are not allowed to receive benefits like Social Security and unemployment, but must pay income taxes. For this reason, the almost 800,000 DACA participants are considered to have a net positive impact on the economy.
‘CHAIN MIGRATION’ PROBLEM
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is possibly the most vocal on the state and national scene among those opposed to DACA and those wanting stricter immigration rules.
“For 30 years, Americans have rejected repeated attempts to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants because they know what will follow: pressure on working-class wages, pressure on public schools, and pressure on welfare dollars,” Cotton said in a statement following President Trump’s DACA decision.
Amnesty is certainly the word that will be part of the DACA discussion in the coming months. Cotton predicted that a “standalone DACA amnesty” will not pass Congressional muster without including “legislative reforms that lessen those consequences and produce lasting gains for all Americans.” Cotton said legislation that simply provides amnesty to DACA participants will only encourage more illegal immigration.
“(President Trump) has said repeatedly that he wants to ‘take care’ of the DACA recipients. I have no objection to that. But we have to recognize there are going to be two negative consequences of that action. One, we create a new opportunity for citizenship through chain migration for their parents, the very people who violated the law by bringing them here as children in the first place. And two, we encourage other people around the world to bring their children here illegally. So we have to do something to stop chain migration,” Cotton noted during a radio interview on the Hugh Hewitt show.
Cotton is a co-author of The RAISE Act which seeks to address the broader immigration issue. Provisions of the Act, which has been endorsed by President Trump, seek to:
• Establish a skills-based points system to replace the current permanent employment-visa system, akin to the systems used by Canada and Australia;
• Prioritize immediate family households aimed at retaining immigration preferences for the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, while eliminating preferences for certain categories of extended and adult family members;
• Eliminate the diversity visa lottery, which they claim is plagued with fraud; and
• Place a limit on permanent residency for refugees by limiting permanent residency to 50,000 per year.
The other high-profile immigration legislation was filed by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Their 2017 Dream Act would also allow immigrants to qualify for permanent residence and provide a path to citizenship if they are longtime residents who came to the United States as children, have earned a high school diploma or GED, have pursued higher education, and have lawful employment for three years or serve in the military. They also must pass a background check and pay a fee, show proficiency in English and U.S. history; and have not committed a felony or posed a threat to the country.
‘GOOD DATA’ ON IMMIGRANT CONTRIBUTIONS
Garcia-Rios understands the sentiment of those opposed to amnesty, and she’s not surprised about Trump’s decision.
“Since the (presidential) election, I felt like DACA was going to be taken away. I didn’t know when, but I knew it was inevitable because it was such a controversial Obama administration policy,” she said.
What changed in the days following Trump’s decision was her perspective. The University of Arkansas student pursuing a graduate degree in political science believes the country now has five years of “good data” about how DACA participants have “contributed to their communities, to their country.”
“Now is the best time (for Congressional consideration) because there have been five years. We have the data about the people and what they are contributing. We can show the significant impact of an immigration policy that could also impact a good portion of the more than 11 million (undocumented) immigrants who are here now,” Garcia-Rios told Talk Business & Politics.
She says her life is an example of most DACA participants. She was three-years-old when she arrived in America. She has lived in Northwest Arkansas ever since.
“It took me a little over 8 years to get my undergrad degree with little access to scholarships. My parents and I paid my tuition in payments every semester. Some semesters we could only afford one class other semesters we could afford two or three. Tuition for undocumented students is two to three times higher than the in-state tuition my citizen or Arkansas resident classmates had to pay,” Garcia-Rios noted in a Facebook post. “I graduated with zero debt and with a great job lined up at The Cisneros Center working with our immigrant and migrant communities in NWA.”
Garcia-Rios told Talk Business & Politics that those “fundamentally opposed” to any form of amnesty “can now see information that backs up why it (immigration reform) is so important.”
“I personally am hopeful, again, because I think our (Congressional) representatives who are opposed to it are more data driven. … I think if enough of the business sector is also mentioning how important it is to the economy, to the states, to the local economies, I think that will persuade (Congress),” she said, adding she is not politically naive, but “hope is an important thing” in such times.
As to her personal example, Garcia-Rios was modest.
“I’m just your average Arkansas-raised kid trying to share a story,” she said.
Early headlines suggest a majority of businesses support legislation protecting the DACA program. For example, more than 400 executives of high-tech companies signed a letter of support for the program.
Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores, one of the largest employers in the country, is lobbying Congress for quick resolution to the issue.
“We encourage Congress to work on a bipartisan solution that provides clarity to those involved and recognizes those who have strong ties to their communities and came to the U.S. in a way that was outside their control. As a company, we have come to highly value many of these individuals as our customers and fellow associates. Any legislative solution needs to avoid disrupting families, our communities and the economy,” noted a company statement.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said supporting DACA participants is in the best interests of the national economy.
“The original DACA program announced in 2012 was premised on sound public policy, and unlike DAPA, it was not challenged in court. Individuals enrolled in good faith and became ingrained in our communities and the nation’s economy. To reverse course now and deport these individuals is contrary to fundamental American principles and the best interests of our country,” Bradley noted in a statement. “With approximately 700,000 DACA recipients working for all sorts of businesses across the country, terminating their employment eligibility runs contrary to the president’s goal of growing the U.S. economy.”