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Will Congress protect Dreamers or cave to ugly anti-Immigrant activism?

The Trump administration ended the DACA program in September and 122 people lose their protections every single day that Congress fails to act.
Lizet Ocampo is the political director of People For the American Way. Prior to her role at PFAW, Ocampo was associate director of immigration at the Center for American Progress.
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Supporters of the Dreamers Act rally in Washington on Dec, 6, 2017 to urge Congress to pass a bill that will allow Dreamers to permanently stay in the country. Crédito: Yuri Gripas / Reuters

As the end of the year creeps closer, Congress is quickly running out of time to address one of the most urgent issues facing the country: protecting DREAMers from deportation following Trump’s elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which had allowed qualifying undocumented youth who grew up in the U.S. to pursue careers and education without fear of deportation.

Since the Trump administration ended the program in September, more than 12,000 Dreamers have already lost their deportation protections and work permits. Around 122 more people lose their protections every single day that Congress fails to act. That means they could be deported at any moment.

Will Republicans—who have full control of Congress—do the only decent thing and act to protect Dreamers this year by passing the DREAM Act, or will they cast their lot with the extreme anti-immigrant lobby and vote to deport Dreamers?

For years, the anti-immigrant Right has pushed ugly lies about Dreamers and their families and railed against the DREAM Act. Last year, American Family Radio’s Bryan Fischer, the host of a daily talk show, smeared Dreamers by insisting that “many of them grow up to be juvenile delinquents and are responsible for a lot of the crime and murder that takes place.” Dave Ray, communications director of the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), recently compared Dreamers to home invaders. It’s the same brand of bigotry that GOP Rep. Steve King relied on when he claimed that most Dreamers are drug runners with “ calves the size of cantaloupes” or when then-candidate Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists.

To be clear, criminality disqualifies applicants from any protections from DACA or the DREAM Act, and Dreamers provide many positive contributions to our communities and the economy. Painting Dreamers as criminals is not only false, it is a morally reprehensible strategy that dehumanizes these young women and men and gives elected officials an excuse to brush them aside or attack them. A classic tactic of racism, hate, and white supremacy.

Some extreme anti-immigrant groups have pushed cruel and even violent policies against immigrant families. FAIR, which has pushed Trump to end the DACA program, also called on him to deny non-emergency medical care to Dreamers and their families. A member of their board of advisers thinks that “troops should be stationed on our southern border with shoot-to-kill orders.” FAIR founder John Tanton supports eugenics and has been explicit about the fact that his anti-immigrant work is grounded in the white supremacist goal of keeping the United States a majority-white country.

This disgusting anti-immigrant worldview has no place in our country, let alone in our policymaking. But whether members of Congress decide to stand with these extreme voices or demand legislation to protect young immigrants remains to be seen.

While Democrats and some Republican members of Congress have made clear they are ready to act before the end of the year, others have not, like GOP senators Marco Rubio (FL), John Cornyn (TX) and Dean Heller (NV), as well as many House Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is insisting that addressing DACA is a “ non-emergency.” This ignorant comment only shows how disconnected Republican leadership is from the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people in their own country.

It is an emergency for former DACA recipients like Brittany Aguilera, who came to the country from Trinidad as a three-year-old and whose legal status expired this month. Until then, she had worked as a nanny in New York City, where she lives with her parents and younger sister. Aguilera recently told The New Yorker that the situation “turns you into a person who doesn’t have the ability to stress the way a normal person stresses,” and instead said she is singularly focused on trying “ to survive.” It’s an emergency for Jessica Q., a nurse assistant who wants to open up her own health clinic to help others and “give back to the people that have helped me out, me and my family, since day one.”

Dreamers are students, caretakers, doctors, journalists, lawyers, and small business owners. They are Americans. If Congress fails to act before the end of the year, it would be a win for the extreme anti-immigrant figures pushing hate and an unconscionable loss for Dreamers, for immigrants, and for anyone who cares about an America that lives up to its promise.