Editorial: Congress: Step up now to help ‘Dreamers’


President Donald Trump has left to Congress the fate of hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” as they are frequently called – people brought to the United States as children without legal papers. Lawmakers must rise to his challenge and finish what they’ve failed to accomplish for more than a decade: real immigration reform that provides a clear path to U.S. citizenship for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers now left in limbo. They are caught in a situation through no choice of their own and now face deportation in the months ahead, many from the only country they’ve known, unless Congress acts.

Staying true to his word, Trump Tuesday (Sept. 5) suspended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that had delayed deportation of these Dreamers. No new applications will be accepted. Before Oct. 5, those who already have DACA can apply to stave off deportation for two more years.  If Congress doesn’t come up with a solution to the Dreamer dilemma by March 2018, people once protected under DACA can be sent back to their parents’ country of origin. Those who applied under DACA risked everything in revealing themselves in hopes that lawmakers would help them eventually; it appears their faith in the American system of fairness and justice was misplaced.

Out of some 800,000 such Dreamers, an estimated 8,000 are New Mexicans. Based on the number of English-language learners and students in bilingual classes, we estimate there are between 200 and 700 of these young people here in Taos. There are probably more.

In Taos, across New Mexico and the United States, these Dreamers are attending school, working jobs, contributing to their communities and trying to become citizens as they reach legal age. But they have no legal path forward. It will take a momentous bipartisan effort to give them one. 

In 2010, the Dream Act passed the House, but failed in the Senate by five votes. Three Republicans voted for the bill and five Democrats voted against it.

One of those who voted against it was then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican who represented Alabama and said at the time, “This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity.”

Now Sessions is the U.S. attorney general and a supporter of Trump’s decision to end DACA.

With the GOP in control of Congress, it largely falls on Republicans to find a way for Dreamers to achieve legal status. Democrats will need to help them get there.

To do otherwise raises some devastating and dangerous prospects for communities across the nation, including Taos. Not only will families be torn apart if young people are scooped up and deported, but it is likely communities will step in to try and protect them. That presents an additional challenge for law enforcement and other authorities who are charged with upholding the law, but don’t want to see their communities torn apart.

Sen. Tom Udall has joined Sen. Martin Heinrich, both lawmakers representing New Mexico, in introducing Senate Bill 229, the Protect DREAMer Confidentiality Act of 2017. The bill would safeguard Dreamers’ private information, such as addresses and telephone numbers. It is a bill worth considering as a first step.

The second is for Congress to find the bipartisan, political will to help Dreamers become citizens.

And finally, we believe Taos governing bodies must come up with a backup plan on what the town will do to protect Dreamers if Congress fails.