ISSUES

Reflections on the State of the Union Address: Dreamers’ Success is Our Country’s Success.


Reflections on the State of the Union Address: Dreamers’ Success is Our Country’s Success

By Jason Koh and Corinne Kentor

There were a number of Dreamers in attendance at last night’s State of the Union address who exemplify the wide-ranging contributions of this population. From James Beard award winner Victoria Elizondo, to emergency room doctor Denisse Rojas Marquez, to Chapman University student Valeria Delgado, these individuals reinforce the importance of establishing permanent protections for DACA recipients and all Dreamers.

Dreamers are integral members of our communities, contributing significantly to our workforce, schools, and beyond. It’s essential to approach the discourse around immigration with a spirit of understanding that recognizes the positive impact Dreamers have on our nation.

Like those in attendance at the State of the Union, many undocumented students in higher education pursue advanced degrees, including master’s, PhDs, MDs, JDs, and more. Notably, nearly twenty percent of the 141,000 DACA-eligible higher education students are enrolled in graduate or professional programs. This commitment to education not only enhances their individual prospects but also contributes to the academic landscape of our nation. Furthermore, approximately 343,000 DACA recipients are actively engaged in essential jobs, exemplified by the dedicated years of service by Dr. Rojas Marquez as an emergency room doctor. In times of labor shortages, the talents of the Dreamer and DACA workforce are crucial.

Dreamers are also vital for economic growth and entrepreneurship. In fact, CBO projections estimate that immigrants will contribute $7 billion to the nation’s GDP within the decade. Many DACA recipients have transitioned from being valued employees to employers, homeowners, military members, and founders of thriving businesses, like chef Victoria Elizondo, who started a pop-up business in 2016 that soon grew into a two time James Beard award nominated catering service and restaurant.

Beyond the individual successes of Dreamers, there are broader social benefits to supporting undocumented students. Immigrant-origin students bring diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives to the academic environment. Over 400,000 undocumented students are pursuing higher education, launching careers, and enriching their communities. The diversity they bring to their campuses enhances collaborative learning and problem-solving and prepares future workers for a globalized economy.

The population affected by DACA and Dreamer legislation consists of longstanding U.S. residents, many living with U.S. citizen family members. Most have grown up in the U.S. and were educated in our public K-12 schools. Recognizing their contributions and providing a pathway to work authorization and permanent residence is essential for America to fully benefit from their talent.

Polls also consistently show that a majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for longtime immigrant residents, regardless of their status. The public desires solutions and actions on immigration beyond the border.

A recent Wall Street Journal poll showed that 74% of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for many years and pass a background check. This approach was the most popular among eight immigration policies tested in the poll, indicating a broad consensus on the need for compassionate and comprehensive reform.

Last month, 168 institutions and organizations in 32 states supported an amicus brief advocating for the protection of DACA recipients, attesting to the important contributions they make to their campuses and communities.

By recognizing the positive contributions of Dreamers, we can achieve a more inclusive, economically vibrant, and culturally enriched nation. It’s imperative for Congress and the Biden Administration to address the needs of Dreamers and ensure permanent protections to this innovative, dynamic, and industrious population.