When Donald Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival or DACA program in early September, U.S. officials representing Kansas were quick to respond. Sen. Pat Roberts called on Congress to pass a “commonsense and compassionate plan for children whose parents brought them here illegally.” Roberts’ fellow Sen. Jerry Moran along with Reps. Kevin Yoder, Roger Marshall and Lynn Jenkins all expressed similar sentiments.
But Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, has already introduced a commonsense alternative to DACA that Kansas’ Washington leaders should consider: the Recognizing America’s Children or RAC Act.
The RAC Act would give legal status to unauthorized immigrants who entered the country at age 16 or younger before 2012. To qualify, applicants would need to pass a criminal background check, owe no back taxes to the government and not be dependent on federal assistance. In addition, they would need to have been employed, in school or serving in the military for the last three years.
Since the announcement of the DACA phase out, the bill has achieved momentum. So far, over 30 Republicans have co-sponsored the house version of the bill and Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, announced that he will introduce a Senate version in the coming weeks.
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It may seem like these Republicans who support the RAC Act would be at odds with their voters, who elected one of the most bombastic critics of immigration. But what’s surprising is that a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll revealed that two-thirds of self-identified Trump voters want Dreamers to stay, while just 26 percent want them deported. Among voters who strongly approved of Trump’s performance, sixty percent want Dreamers to remain in the country and only thirty-three percent would like them deported.
But Trump’s attitude towards Dreamers have been just as surprising. After the presidential election, he has consistently portrayed them in a positive and sympathetic light. His decision to end DACA was caused by a group of attorneys general threatening to sue him, not out of a desire to deport Dreamers. In a recent tweet, Trump highlighted how Dreamers were gifted and accomplished people and balked at the idea of anybody wanting to “throw them out.”
Donald Trump is right. Ninety percent of Dreamers are employed, including 83 percent of those currently enrolled in school. Dreamers also start businesses at twice the rate of the average citizen. The protections outlined in the RAC Act would ensure that they can keep contributing to the nation’s economy. According to one report by the Niskanen Center, the RAC Act would save Kansas $137 million and the U.S. over $21 billion over the next ten fiscal years.
The bill would also save taxpayer money by avoiding more unnecessary deportations. The government would have to spend over $10 billion — double the annual budget of Immigration and Customs Enforcement –– to deport all Dreamers. Furthermore, deporting them would compound ICE’s problem of deporting people with no significant criminal record. Deporting such people is not just cruel. It also harms public safety by diverting the agency’s attention away from focusing on the small fraction of unauthorized immigrants who are actually violent.
As the immigration debate continues to polarize the country, the desire to protect Dreamers is one issue where Americans can achieve consensus. The RAC Act represents a unique opportunity for congress to enact sensible immigration legislation. Doing so would spare both the U.S. and Kansas from the moral failings of uprooting, displacing, and discarding thousands of people who have contributed to our nation’s prosperity.
Sam Peak is an advocate for Young Voices living in Alexandria, Va. He is a nonprofit program coordinator who writes about immigration, taxes and regulations. He is a graduate of Park University in Kansas City and can be found on Twitter @Tiger_Speak.