Fifteen years ago, I introduced the DREAM Act to grant young undocumented immigrants who grew up in this country a chance to earn their citizenship. Since then, I’ve gone to the floor of the Senate many times to tell the stories of these extraordinary young men and women and their contributions to our country. These stories highlight the challenges DREAMers face due to their immigration status, but they also prove that the American experience isn’t limited to those who hold U.S. citizenship. Like our children, undocumented youth grew up singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and pledging allegiance to the only flag they know – the American flag.
In 2012, I asked President Obama to help these young DREAMers step out of the shadows and pursue their hopes and dreams without fear of deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has allowed those young people to give back to their schools, communities, and our country without that fear weighing them down.
But this program and those hundreds of thousands of young people could be swept away with the stroke of a pen once President Trump takes office.
In the three weeks since the election, immigrant advocacy groups and activists have expressed grave concern about the fate of young undocumented immigrants. Their concern is understandable. During his campaign, President-elect Trump used highly offensive language to describe immigrants and immigration, and vowed to eliminate DACA. As President of the United States, we do not know whether Trump will pursue this divisive course.
As a first step in bringing this country together, President-elect Trump should change his approach to immigration and protect vulnerable DREAMers. Preserving DACA not only does right by DREAMers, it’s in the best interest of the United States. We have invested in DREAMers’ education, and we stand to benefit when these talented young people become teachers, doctors, and business owners. Deferred action also helps ensure that our limited homeland security resources are spent pursuing individuals who pose a real threat to national security and public safety, not promising young immigrants who have voluntarily come forward, paid a fee, and passed a criminal background check. I hope and pray that the next Administration will realize this and continue protections for DREAMers.
But let me be clear. If there is an attempt to eliminate these protections, I will do everything in my power as a United States Senator to protect the DREAMers who had the courage to step forward and declare themselves “undocumented and unafraid.”
Our leaders cannot play politics with the lives of these young people—it would be an absolute tragedy to deport them to countries they no longer remember, where they may not even speak the language. I will work to make sure that never happens, and I will fight to ensure that everyone who calls America home is treated with dignity and respect.
Disclaimer: We selected this Op-Ed to be published in our opinion section as a contribution to public debate. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author(s) and/or the organization(s) they represent and do not reflect the views or the editorial line of Univision Noticias.