Advocates urge Sinema, Tillis to move Dream Act forward

Delia Rodriguez hopes to someday become a social worker, but her undocumented status puts her at risk of deportation, potentially shattering that dream. Now, a bipartisan proposal at the federal level could change that. 

“My future is in the hands of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Thom Tillis. With their help, we can find a national solution that takes my life plans out of limbo and allows me to pursue my ambitions without fear and anxiety,” she said, during an online news conference held to urge the senators to move the process forward. 

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The proposal, dubbed the Dream Act and headed by Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, and Sen. Tillis, R-North Carolina, is a last minute push to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers before the start of the new Congressional session, when Democrats will lose control of the House and future attempts will prove more difficult. Negotiations for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors, are still underway on what the final legislation will look like with three weeks left before the new session begins. 

The effort comes as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that protects some immigrants who entered the country as children from deportation and grants them work permits, faces an uncertain future as litigation over its legality continues. 

Oscar Romero, a software engineer from North Carolina, said during Thursday’s news conference that a solution is past due to provide DACA recipients like him some sense of stability. The program requires recipients to renew their applications every two years and Romero has done so six times since 2013, each time paying more than $500 in just application fees, without accounting for legal costs. Living two years at a time is incompatible with long-term goals, not to mention terrifying, Romero said. 

“Who here has heard the question: Where do you want to be in five years? Imagine not being able to answer that — with your life in this country revolving on a two-year cycle,” he said.

In exchange for the protection of nearly 2 million Dreamers across the country, border security funding increases and changes to refugee processing would be enacted. At least $25 billion would be allocated for border security and agent pay increases and Title 42, a Trump-era health policy that allows asylum seekers to be turned away while their claims are processed that is set to end on Dec. 21, would be extended for another year until new “regional processing centers” established by the proposal could be erected. 

In Arizona alone, more than 22,000 DACA recipients stand to benefit, and 44,000 more who were prevented from joining due to court rulings that froze the program are likely eligible and may also gain protections from the federal proposal, depending on the final criteria in the act. 

For John Graham, CEO of Scottsdale-based real estate company Sunbelt Holdings, the proposal gives peace of mind not just to DACA recipients but also their employers.

“For more than a decade, DACA recipients, their employers and employees have been vulnerable to government indecision that has sowed anxiety, instability and legal limbo into their lives and into our nation’s workforce,” he said. 

The DACA program infused the nation’s workforce with 800,000 more workers, and their ability to participate, Graham said, must be secured into the future, not be subject to the whims of the courts.  

Politicians who support Dreamers at the federal level are simply acting in accord with the wishes of constituents, Graham added. During the midterms, Arizonans approved Proposition 308, which gives undocumented students access to in-state tuition, overturning a previous voter-approved measure that forced them to pay out-of state rates. 

“The majority of Arizona voters showed that they’ve evolved beyond the ugly anti-immigration sentiment of Arizona’s past,” he said. “It showed that a majority of Arizonans understand that Dreamers have become woven into the fabric of the state’s future.”

For 20-year-old Rodriguez, participating in that future means bolstering critical parts of the state’s workforce. The chance at citizenship offered by the federal proposal would empower her and other undocumented youth like her to do so legally, and without fear of deportation. 

“Dreamers like me want the chance to contribute to our communities, including as doctors, nurses, teachers and other professions that Arizona and our country needs,” she said. “In order to do that, we need to find a permanent solution. I want to wake up every day and not worry about my status.” 

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