American dreams of young people will be cruelly ripped away

The American dream has always been about chasing opportunity and pursuing a brighter future for ourselves and our children.

Unfortunately, if certain national leaders have their way and repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the American dreams of hundreds of thousands of young people will be cruelly ripped away. These are dreams that are as lofty and aspirational as the dreams of those who helped build our country more than 240 years ago.

We must ask ourselves: Are we a confident, forward-looking nation that builds monuments — like DACA — to hope and determination? Or are we a nation that is turned inward, lauding monuments to intolerance and division?

Five years ago this month the federal government began accepting applications from undocumented immigrants under the age of 31, many of whom were brought here as small children and have known no other home than America. They came forward, passed a background check and achieved their dream of living in our country without fear and contributing as fully recognized members of our society.

Today, close to 800,000 young people have been granted protection from deportation under DACA. Some 17,000 of them live in Washington State. These “Dreamers” are students, teachers, doctors, and small-business professionals who are working, studying and raising families.

They are people like Hortencia, a young woman I met at Skagit Valley College. She is working to earn a degree in business management and says she hopes to be an inspiration to her daughter and her community. These Dreamers are aspiring — and, yes, inspiring — young people who contribute to our country and our economy.

For years, my state of Washington tried to pass its own state Dream Act. Many Republicans weren’t interested. But some thought differently after they met Dreamers and heard stories that revealed their courage, grit and determination. It is the same determination that built America and will help it continue to thrive.

It was then that these Republicans joined Democrats in doing the right thing. I hope that same spirit can work in Washington, D.C., like it did in our state capitol.

The stakes for Hortencia and other Dreamers are high. At this moment, a group of Republican attorneys general are threatening to sue President Donald Trump if he does not repeal DACA. They would like to strip these young people of their lawful resident status and their jobs.

This would put Dreamers at immediate risk of deportation and tear thousands of families apart. It would also hurt businesses in every state and cost the US economy $460 billion over the next 10 years, according to a data analysis by the Center for American Progress. It’s a senselessly cruel objective, driven by a hateful anti-immigrant agenda that is rejected by the vast majority of Americans.

Now is a moment for the President to show leadership and defend the DACA program against a legal challenge. But given the President’s words and actions in recent months and days, I believe it will be up to Congress to choose empathy, sensibility and smart policy over hate, division and fear-mongering.

If President Trump will not protect Dreamers, Congress must immediately pass the bipartisan DREAM Act and provide permanent protection for these young Americans.

Such an move would be a welcome respite from the administration’s breathtaking attacks on immigrants. In the past eight months the President has launched an unconstitutional travel ban on Muslims and refugees fleeing extreme violence, presided over a huge spike in the number of deportation orders, and is attempting to coerce officials in cities and states into releasing inappropriate information about undocumented residents to deportation officials.

These actions run contrary to the values our nation was founded on, but they also make us less safe, not more. By forcing men, women and children into the shadows, we undermine the ability of law enforcement to work with communities to find and prosecute people who commit crimes.

This is a dramatic shift from just a few years ago when leaders from both parties recognized the need for comprehensive immigration reform. They had worked for almost a decade on meaningful legislation that, while imperfect, would have vastly improved our immigration policies.

Crucially, it would have extended permanent protections for Dreamers. Unfortunately, members of the Tea Party killed the effort in Congress, Republican senators abandoned the effort, and Trump’s election campaign dumbed down the GOP’s immigration policy platform to three words: build a wall.

Now America is facing an identity crisis, encouraged by nativist forces in our White House. In rhetoric and in deed, we are witnessing the mainstreaming of a hateful and discriminatory ideology I had hoped my children and grandchildren would never see.

While our nation rightfully expresses outrage over the Charlottesville tragedy and its fallout, we must not lose sight of the imminent threat to this crucial program that protects young immigrants.

As governor, I stood up against the travel ban, and as governor, I will fight in every way I can to keep these Dreamers here, at home. I hope Republicans in Congress and the administration will fight for Dreamers as well. Deportation is no more a solution to our immigration challenges than the President’s nativist “build a wall” plan.

Federal lawmakers must act now to protect Dreamers. Staying on the sidelines is not an option. Strongly worded tweets are not enough. These are people pursuing incredible futures. Let’s give them the chance they deserve.

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