Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF), said Arkansas policymakers should follow the example of business and higher education officials who recognize the state economy would be better off if Congress made the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) policy permanent.
Huddleston’s comments were part of Tuesday’s unveiling of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children” report. The report outlined persistent challenges in child well-being that hinder the success of children of color and kids living in immigrant families.
Investments in pre-kindergarten and after-school programs as well as providing more opportunities for higher education, especially for “Dreamers” who are too often shut out of higher education opportunities, are a few examples of policy initiatives that could close the gap, Huddleston urged.
The Casey Foundation report comes as Congress moves closer to President Donald Trump’s year-end deadline to secure an agreement to protect nearly 800,000 undocumented children brought into the U.S. at an early age, or the DACA program will be shut down.
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.
On Sept. 5, President Trump said in rescinding DACA that it was his “highest duty to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America.”
“There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will,” Trump said in a statement. “The temporary implementation of DACA by the Obama Administration, after Congress repeatedly rejected this amnesty-first approach, also helped spur a humanitarian crisis – the massive surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America including, in some cases, young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout.”
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.
Since the president’s executive order, however, several state college leaders and business groups have urged Arkansas’ congressional delegation to pass immigration policy that would protect the so-called “Dreamers” who would be impacted by the phase out of DACA. According to some estimates, there are up to 100,000 young Arkansans at the risk of being deported if DACA is rescinded.
“The children and young people who have been protected by DACA know America as their only home, and the solution to our broken system is not sending them off to another country,” said National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons, adding the U.S. is a “nation of immigrants.”
However, other conservative groups such as the Federal for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are pushing Congress not to consider a controversial DACA bill proposed by Senate Republicans that would create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
“President Trump recently laid out a set of major immigration priorities that are overwhelmingly popular with the American electorate – including enhanced border security, robust interior enforcement and reducing legal immigration levels while moving to a modern, merit-based system,” said FAIR President Dan Stein. “Unfortunately, the Republican congressional leadership seems headed toward passage of a DACA amnesty in exchange for token and ineffective immigration enforcement provisions.”