OPED: Dreamers help strengthen U.S. economy

Dr. Mary Barnes
Springfield Township

Most of us by now have heard about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, sometimes called the Dreamers. These are the young immigrants who were brought here as infants and children, who have grown up here, and who know only America as their home.

Dreamers from left; Isaac Montiel, 28, of NYC, Monica Camacho, 23, of Bethesda, Md., and Cynthia Toyco, 33, of Rogers, Arkansas, hold their pictures, during the House and Senate Democrats, news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. House and Senate Democrats gather to call for Congressional Republicans to stand up to President Trump's decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative by bringing the DREAM Act for a vote on the House and Senate Floor. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magan

The DACA program was launched in 2012. It has allowed these young men and women to have “deferred action,” which means temporary relief from deportation. It does not mean amnesty — despite being falsely labeled as such by the anti-immigrant chorus. Amnesty is pardoning. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted in court, is essentially an amnesty recipient.

In order to receive this deferred action and the right to work, the Dreamers have had to meet certain conditions including attending school, entering the military, and/or lawfully working, as well as, of course, having no history of committing serious crimes.

This group of nearly 800,000 has had to re-register every two years, which costs $495 each time (not easy for those with low incomes). It has offered no path to citizenship. Again, no path to citizenship. And no matter how loud or how often the above-mentioned chorus raps alternative facts about DACA, no Dreamer receives federal aid of any kind whatsoever including any welfare or health care. None. Any health care they get, they purchase for themselves. In many, but not all, states these recipients are made to pay out-of-state tuition though they’ve attended in-state elementary and secondary schools most of their lives. They can receive no federal student loans. None.

The main American taxpayer burden regarding first-generation immigrants is for their primary and secondary education. However, as adults they are “among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors to the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population,” according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Please hear this: they are taxpayers. These young people pay into Social Security and Medicare from which they will never benefit. It has been estimated that if these Dreamers were gone from the workforce, the economy would lose $460.3 billion from the GDP in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions. They pay $2 billion in state and local taxes — $20 million in Pennsylvania alone.

Can we relinquish just enough of our preconceived notions to be practical and proactive here? My 97-year-old mother’s health care aides have all been from Central America or Africa. More than 25 percent of all home health aides in the U.S. in 2015 were immigrants, many DACA recipients. If they are kicked out, who will take care of us aging baby boomers?

Our unemployment rate is about 4.4 percent. We don’t have nearly enough native-born workers to fill many available jobs as it is. Yadira Garcia, a DACA recipient, after working hard to complete her higher education, began teaching math in the Arizona high school she herself attended. The job had been open for a full year. In fact, in Arizona, more than one-fourth of openings for teachers for 2016-17 went unfilled. Let’s face it, with their youth, willingness to work hard and economic contributions, the Dreamers are helping to balance economically what’s being lost as we native-born Americans get old.

— Dr. Mary Barnes is a resident of Springfield Township.