DACA and the Business Moral Imperative

By William Longbrake

Vincent came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was three years old. He currently attends a liberal arts college in Ohio, is fluent in English, and is like any other American teenager you might meet on a college campus. He is smart, affable and eager to learn. You would not know that he is different. But he is. Vincent is an undocumented immigrant who is one of approximately 800,000 who are registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

With the rescinding of DACA by the Trump Administration on September 5th, Vincent and others like him now live in fear and uncertainty about what might befall them.

Just prior to the announcement ending DACA, hundreds of business executives, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerman, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella signed a letter imploring President Trump not to terminate DACA.

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we are concerned about new developments in immigration policy that threaten the future of young undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.”

Many also issued personal statements. Their pleas were ignored.

DACA was established by President Obama through an Executive Order in June 2012 after Congress failed to pass the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, originally introduced in 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The DREAM Act would have allowed individuals who came to the US as children to apply for legal immigrant status and provided a pathway to citizenship. This bill passed the House of Representatives in December 2010 and received a majority vote in the Senate, but failed to obtain the necessary 60 votes.

President Obama’s DACA program provided a two-year protection to qualified DREAMers from deportation and a permit to work legally in the US. To be eligible, DREAMers had to have come to the US before their 16th birthday, had to have lived in the country continuously since June 15, 2007, cannot have committed a serious offense, must be enrolled in high school or college, and could not have been older than 30 when the DACA program was established in 2012. The education requirement alone has not been met by an estimated 400,000 who otherwise would have been DACA-eligible.

Applicants are required to provide detailed information, pay a $600 application fee and must pass a background check. Approval expires after two years, but DREAMers can reapply for another two years. Approval is not absolute. If a DREAMer is arrested, DACA status can be revoked even if no conviction occurs.

On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the termination of DACA but provided a six-month wind-down to enable Congress to act. No new first-time applications would be received after September 5th and applications for renewal for a two-year term must be filed by October 5th. Beginning on March 6, 2018, no renewals would be granted, which would mean that all DREAMers would lose their protected status over the following two years.

Despite his immigration campaign rhetoric, President Trump seemed to be somewhat ambivalent. He tweeted: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!

Shortly after the announcement Trump met with Chuck Schumer, Senate Democratic Minority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Minority leader, and expressed a willingness to work with Congress to come up with a solution. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress needs to come up with a solution in time. But, a few days later, President Trump complicated Congress’ task by announcing his support for a solution was conditional on Congress providing funding to construct a wall to stanch illegal immigration.

Since President Obama established the DACA program there has been uncertainty about whether the president had the constitutional authority or whether immigration policy properly is the responsibility of Congress. Until recently, however, no one filed a legal challenge. In June, ten Republican state attorneys general announced they would collectively challenge the constitutionality of the DACA program, if the Trump Administration took no action by September 5th. Rather than defend Obama’s program in court, the Trump Administration decided to kick the matter to Congress with a 6-month delay in full implementation.

Public sentiment overwhelmingly supports the intent of the DACA program. Nearly two-thirds of those queried in an NBC News/Survey Monkey survey favored letting DREAMers stay in the US.

College presidents have taken a stand:

We call upon Congress to pass the bipartisan DREAM Act so that these talented and hardworking students, brought here as children by parents who only wished for a better life, are able to get the shot at success and the American dream that they so rightfully deserve.

Many businesses are benefiting from the talents of DREAMers. Apple employs 250. But, when the two-year DACA protection expires, work permits will be revoked and businesses will no longer be able continue to employ DREAMers legally.

Employing and retaining skilled workers is important to every business’s long-term success. This alone should be sufficient for business people to support congressional action. But there is a moral imperative as well. Dreamers have been thrown into gut-wrenching anxiety about what might happen to them. What will they do if their work permit is revoked? What will they do and how will they survive if they are deported to a country they have never known?

Business leaders need to support DREAMers in this time of acute uncertainty, starting on an individual basis within an organization. Business leaders should acknowledge that many of their employees care deeply about what is happening and provide opportunities for them to understand and discuss the implications for impacted workers and how they might be able to help. On a personal level, it means a great deal to individual employees when someone in authority serves as a role model and is unafraid to voice his own sentiments and listen respectfully to those of others.

Business leaders can pledge, as Microsoft has done for its 39 DREAMers, to provide counsel and pay for legal expenses for those facing deportation.  

Moral courage is really tested, however, when a business leader considers whether to take a public stand on the organization’s behalf. Speaking out for what you believe to be right may be unpopular with some clients and customers. This might result in unwelcome publicity or, worse, lost business. In the case of the DREAMers plight, it has been easy to issue public statements encouraging Congress to act. This collective action has been received favorably by most and entailed little risk.

But, it could take real moral courage to advocate that Congress pass the DREAM Act. And, by “advocate” I mean taking affirmative action beyond mere words. Business leaders should not be afraid to organize and lobby politicians to do what they believe is in the best long-term interests of America and not limit their involvement in the public square to narrow business self-interests.

Many black business leaders, who are committed to addressing political and social issues involving race and inequality, plan to establish three organizations. One, a political action committee (PAC) would host events and finance advertising. Another, also a PAC, would provide financial support to political candidates. A third would be a social welfare nonprofit. All three would be dedicated to addressing access to education and employment and voter participation.

Power to effect political change will come not just through words alone but through organized action. This is business leaders’ opportunity, indeed moral obligation. But stepping out requires courage.

America’s strength has been built on our belief in the efficacy of an open and inclusive society. So, it is not just a moral imperative to treat all with respect and dignity and provide opportunity to all to attain the American dream, it is also the right thing to do to maintain America’s historic strength and role as a global leader.

William Longbrake is Auburn’s Economist in Residence.  William (Bill) has extensive experience in finance and investments, macroeconomics and monetary policy, risk management, housing, and public policy. 

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