The big decision on Dreamers: What Congress should do

Rubio: Trump doesn't want to oust Dreamers
Rubio: Trump doesn't want to oust Dreamers

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Story highlights

  • Jeremy Robbins: There is bipartisan recognition of the economic benefits that Dreamers bring to their communities
  • Congress should keep these benefits in mind as they determine the fate of the Dreamers, he writes

Jeremy Robbins is the Executive Director of New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition that supports immigration reform. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)One outcome of President Trump's surprise budget deal with Democrats is a potential December showdown over the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and its hundreds of thousands of young beneficiaries. All eyes will turn to Congress -- where, admittedly, a major immigration deal has eluded DC lawmakers for decades now.

There is reason for optimism, especially after reports that Trump and Democratic leaders discussed the possibility of another deal -- to protect young immigrants -- at the White House on Wednesday night. When it comes to immigration, commentators tend to pit blue states against red states, the coasts against the rest of the country. But in the end we all want the same thing for our communities.
    And in many cities and states the importance of immigrants is undisputed. It's common sense, and it's dollars and cents. Beyond the Beltway, states and cities recognize the obligation -- and the value -- of protecting the Americans like those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves once again in legal limbo, after the Trump Administration's decision to end DACA.
    Jeremy Robbins
    As children, DACA's 800,000 "Dreamers" were brought to America illegally by their parents. But DACA is not a free ride -- to be eligible, applicants are required to pass background checks and show they are going to school, have graduated, or have honorably served in the military. With the requirements met, Dreamers can remain in the country they call home.
    Given that basic opportunity, DACA recipients more than hold up their end of the bargain. A new analysis by New American Economy shows the "DACA-eligible population earns almost $19.9 billion in income" every year. Many start their own businesses. They produce, they pay billions of dollars in taxes, and they better themselves and their communities.
    Unlike the Trump Administration and a long-gridlocked Congress, state and city policymakers have long recognized the value of young Dreamers to their economies.
    Already, 16 states -- conservative Texas, Utah, and Kansas among them -- have passed state-specific versions of a DREAM Act so that undocumented young people could pay in-state tuition in their home states. Those laws have paid off in the form of higher education levels and wages for young immigrants. And today, when anti-immigrant backlashes flare up in their state legislatures, coalitions of business leaders stand with college administrators and activists to protect these policies.
    Local leaders, too, know the blueprint -- in city after city, immigrants drive and revive economic growth. In fact, according to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, "between 2000 and 2013, immigrants were responsible for all of the net growth in Main Street business nationally." That explains why last year, 20 cities -- nearly all in red states -- entered the first Gateways for Growth Challenge, which New American Economy and Welcoming America co-run. From Anchorage to Houston to Phoenix to Salt Lake City, participating cities use grants to craft immigrant economic development strategies. This week, 25 more cities will join them when we announce the recipients of the next round of Gateways for Growth grants.
    Of course, the power to fix the White House's ill-advised move against DACA does not lie with states or cities. It lies with Congress and will likely be decided before the end of this year. Fortunately, in both chambers, there is a long record of bipartisan support for a number of possible solutions -- ranging from a path to full citizenship, to a path to legal status, to a temporary renewal of DACA protections. Republican or bipartisan-led efforts to protect DACA recipients through the DREAM Act, RAC Act, or BRIDGE Act are all rapidly gaining co-sponsors.
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    Skeptics express reasonable concerns about America's broken immigration system. They want the law enforced, our borders secure, and the same rules to apply to every immigrant -- and rightly so. But we can uphold the rule of law and control our borders while at the same time showing compassion to young Americans who were brought here years ago with no say in the matter. For many, their memories are entirely of growing up and living here. The United States is the only place these talented, productive young people could possibly recognize as home. Sent to another country, they might not speak the native language or know a soul.
    If Congress prizes hard work and patriotic individuals pursuing the American Dream, it will heed the lessons red and blue states and cities alike have already learned and find common ground this December, starting with protection of the Dreamers. Embracing ambitious immigrants benefits us all. Now is the time to reach across the aisle and finally do what is right, for the Dreamers and for America.