TULSA — Oklahomans pride themselves on being in control of their own destiny, believing that with grit and hard work anything is possible. Indeed, the state constitution declares that, in addition to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all persons have the right to “the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry.”
Likewise, the state motto, Labor omnia vincit, meaning labor conquers all things, reiterates the promise of opportunity for all willing to work for it. Yet today, Oklahoma’s promise remains elusive for thousands of immigrant “Dreamers,” newcomers who came to the United States as children and who have made a life and a home here in Oklahoma.
Dreamers, and immigrants in general, face an increasingly uncertain environment, wrought largely by politicians who say they want people to come here legally, but then vote for legislation that would dismantle the current legal immigration system. It’s estimated that current restrictionist policies will lead to a 12 percent decline in legal immigration during President Donald Trump’s first two years in office. But recent polling suggests that the majority of Americans believe legal immigration should be kept at its present level or even increased. These surveys also show overwhelming support across the political spectrum for providing Dreamers with a path to legal status, including citizenship. Yet three of four Oklahoma congressmen recently supported an immigration bill that, despite public opinion to the contrary, would provide only temporary relief to a small number of Dreamers and would cut existing avenues of legal immigration by 40 percent.
How DACA helped Dreamers before repeal
For nearly two decades, through three administrations, Congress has failed to reach an agreement on protection for Dreamers. In 2012, President Barack Obama authorized the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), through which eligible immigrants brought to the U.S. as children could apply for temporary protection from deportation and permission to work. DACA was intended to serve as a stopgap measure in the face of Congress’s failure to act, but still no legislative solution emerged. In September 2017, the Trump administration rescinded DACA and gave Congress six months to pass DACA or Dreamer protections. In March 2018, Congress ran out of time, but several federal courts ordered the administration to continue accepting DACA renewal applications while legal challenges to the termination of DACA were decided.
In June, Congress failed again to pass protections for Dreamers in two immigration bills that included border enforcement and other punitive measures that made compromise impossible. But other pieces of legislation that have bipartisan support are still in play, including the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act. The USA Act would grant a path to citizenship for Dreamers, while also providing funds to boost border security. Applicants would be required to continue to contribute to the nation’s economy and they’d also have to pass background checks. The USA Act is neither amnesty nor a free ride. But getting Congress to act on it is urgent, since a federal court in Texas may issue a decision in the coming weeks in a case challenging the legality of DACA. The court is expected to find DACA unlawful and the case will likely end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, however, the fates of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients may be in peril if their status expires before the Supreme Court finally rules on the legality of DACA.
Approximately 6,000 Oklahomans have been granted DACA relief, but up to 20,000 Oklahomans — 95 percent of whom are working or enrolled in school — would be eligible for relief under the USA Act or similar Dreamer legislation. Without Congressional action, though, most would have no avenue to legal status.
The right thing to do
To fix our broken immigration system, and ensure protection for our Dreamers, a bipartisan solution is needed now. Lawmakers who want enhanced border security and an end to illegal immigration must support legislation that would actually achieve these goals without destroying the diverse and thriving Oklahoma communities in which immigrants have made their homes, built their businesses and raised their families for decades.
Allowing Oklahoma Dreamers to apply for and obtain legal status not only contributes to the social and economic well-being of the state, it enhances national security by allowing our undocumented neighbors to come out of the shadows, be subjected to the intense scrutiny of our immigration system background check, and fully participate in community life.
More importantly, ensuring protection for Dreamers is the right thing to do in a state that was born out of the courage and toil of newcomers and continues to believe that Labor omnia vincit.