Saying the future of America and its economy depends upon it, Sacramento business and civic leaders joined students at Sacramento State on Wednesday to sign a letter to six local U.S. Congress members asking them to help advance bipartisan legislation that would offer so-called “Dreamers” protection from deportation and a path to citizenship.
The letter signing, led by Sac State President Robert Nelsen, was part of a chorus of voices this week demanding legislation that would protect the 800,000 young immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Those in the program were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and have grown up and attended school here.
Several dozen House Republicans earlier this week penned a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan urging Congress to act before the year’s end on legislation that would protect “Dreamers” from deportation. In addition, about 2,000 people converged on nation’s Capitol Wednesday for a rally demanding a DACA solution.
President Donald Trump announced in September that he would be phasing out DACA, which was established by the Obama administration and gave participants temporary protected status and made them eligible for work permits. Trump has given Congress a March deadline for crafting a permanent fix for the program.
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Offering an emotional speech at the letter signing, Nelsen said that California State University, Sacramento is home to more than 1,000 undocumented students. “I love these students. They are smart, they have big hearts, they are our future, they deserve the right to citizenship, the right to education and the right to making America a better place,” he said.
The letter – signed by Nelsen, Sacramento Metro Chamber Vice President Robert Dugan, Sacramento Hispanic Chamber President Cathy Rodriguez, California Restaurant Association Senior Vice President Matthew Sutton and several Sac State “Dreamers” – cited a recent Fox News poll that found 86 percent of Americans, and 76 percent of Republicans, support giving “Dreamers” a permanent pathway to citizenship.
There are an estimated 212,000 DACA recipients in California, including “about 20,000 in Sacramento County and 50,000 in the region,” said Dugan, whose chamber includes more than 1,600 members, many of whom employ “Dreamers.” Deporting them would cause “the disruption of our businesses, community and our quality of life,” he said.
Sutton said that since the program’s inception, 440,000 DACA recipients have bought a car, 96,000 have bought a home and the 40,000 have started small businesses. “To remove 800,000 will cost employers an estimated $3.4 billion in employee turnover,” he said.
Rodriguez, whose dad came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 20 to work in the fields, said “when I see the ‘Dreamers’ I see myself, starting out full of hope and ready to take on the world.” By announcing the program’s end and by offering no replacement for it, “we have put our DACA students and their families who placed their trust in the U.S. in jeopardy,” she said.
One of those students, Fatima Yesenia Diaz, 21, said she was brought to California at the age of 11 months. “I stood up for the Pledge of Allegiance like everybody else in my class and got involved in clubs and organizations, such as the Lincoln Rotary and St. Joseph’s Church,” she said. “I dreamed of becoming a pilot and didn’t learn I was undocumented until the recruiter told me because of my status I wasn’t eligible.”
Diaz, a Sac State junior majoring in child development, said she wants to continue to mentor at-risk teens, “but my future is in limbo,” she said. “Myself and 1,700 DACA recipients in Congressman Ami Bera’s district want to give back. We want to live in a country that we call home without fear of deportation.”