Earlier this month, a federal district court judge in Texas declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) illegal, upending the lives of millions of Dreamers. The decision will undoubtedly be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which can and should overturn the ruling. But the Senate is in the best position to respond to this ruling — by creating a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
Currently, 600,000 Dreamers nationwide, including more than 5,000 in Minnesota, are DACA recipients. DACA affords Dreamers, undocumented young people who were brought to this country as children, protection from deportation and employment authorization so long as the program continues. But as the past four years have shown, the existence of DACA is precarious.
Although DACA confers real benefits on recipients, the program does not create a pathway to citizenship. Hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients renew their status each year, but doing so does not move them closer to getting a green card or citizenship. They live in limbo.
Meanwhile, about 600,000 additional Dreamers nationwide, including more than 6,000 in Minnesota, are eligible to apply for DACA. Many were stopped from applying by the ban on applications from 2017-2020. For example, any Dreamer who turned 15 during that time period and became eligible for DACA was not allowed to apply. Since 2020 — when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) yet again began accepting initial applications — over 81,000 Dreamers filed first-time DACA applications.
However, as of May 31, USCIS had adjudicated only 1,900 of those applications. In light of the Texas court decision last week, it is unclear whether USCIS can complete the adjudication of more than 70,000 pending applications. These young people have been waiting for years to reach the limbo that is DACA. Now, they may not even be able to attain that.
The uncertainties facing Dreamers have ripple effects on our communities. The U.S. labor shortage is a "national emergency," according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Here in Minnesota, the unemployment rate is 4%, with significant labor shortages in hospitality, health care and retail.
If not for the judicial decision from Texas, tens of thousands of first-time applicants for DACA would be a potential new, homegrown labor pool to fill vacant positions. And if the Texas decision ultimately ends DACA, over 600,000 workers would be removed from the nation's economy at a time when we most desperately need them. If DACA ends, our national economy would lose an estimated $460.3 billion in GDP over the next decade. Minnesota would lose $376.7 million in GDP annually.
Quite simply, we cannot afford to lose Dreamers.
This is why the Senate must act and pass a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The majority of Democrats and Republicans support this common-sense legislation. The U.S. House has already passed it multiple times. It is now time for the Senate to use all available means to pass the Dream and Promise Act, which invests in the future of Dreamers, and us all.
Veena Iyer is executive director, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. Laura Bordelon is senior vice president for advocacy, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. B Kyle is president & CEO, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. Jonathan Weinhagen is president & CEO, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.