In My Words: Congress must act on DACA before year’s end

This opinion column by Elon President Emeritus Leo M. Lambert and Davidson College President Emerita Carol Quillen advocates for the passage of legislation that would allow those who arrived in the country as undocumented children to remain in the country legally. The column was published in the Charlotte Observer, the Raleigh News & Observer and Durham Herald-Sun.

Oscar Miranda Tapia came to Elon University as a Golden Door Scholar. Since graduation, he has completed a service-year fellowship in Alamance County, earned his master’s in education from Harvard University, and helped launch an Elon program to support first-generation college students. Today, he’s in a doctoral program at N.C. State University and co-author of a forthcoming book on college student success.

Elon President Emeritus Leo M. Lambert and Davidson College President Emerita Carol Quillen

Tony Solis, Davidson College Class of 2019, is a first-generation college student who has lived in the U.S. since age 6. A passionate advocate for education, he helped Davidson recruit and support talented students regardless of their finances, taught math in Washington, D.C. for Teach for America, and developed online curricula in math and Spanish. He’s now a graduate student at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Oscar and Tony are two of the more than 800,000 U.S. residents, including 22,000 in North Carolina, who have benefited from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. During our tenures at Davidson and Elon, we got to know these extraordinary young people. As educators and proud Americans who believe in the promise of this country, we urgently support a common-sense policy to ensure that this pool of talent — which this country badly needs to retain — no longer remains at risk. It’s the smart and moral thing to do.

DACA has been one of the most beneficial immigration programs in modern U.S. history, providing deportation protections, work permits, and new opportunities for “Dreamers” who arrived in the U.S. as undocumented children. On average, N.C. DACA recipients have lived in the U.S. since age 8 and have attended K-12 schools throughout our state.

Now, most DACA recipients are young adults who are contributing to this country. North Carolina DACA recipients pay more than $200 million each year in federal and state taxes and work as valued employees at N.C. companies. Others are giving back to this state as elementary school teachers and ER nurses, just two fields in which DACA recipients are filling acute worker shortages. Meanwhile, DACA recipients are raising families in our state, including as parents to more than 15,000 children who are U.S. citizens.

As college presidents, we saw firsthand how Dreamers, with and without DACA status, have enriched our campuses and how alumni with DACA protections are strengthening our state and national economies. DACA and other programs that expand opportunities for immigrant youth are good for all of us, in North Carolina and beyond.

U.S. citizens have invested in educating Dreamers for decades and they’ve more than given back. Global economies in the 21st century are in a fierce competition for talent, so keeping our talented Dreamers in the U.S. will lift all of us.

Given recent court rulings that endanger the future of DACA, we are united in calling on North Carolina’s congressional delegation to secure Dreamers’ futures in the U.S. Congress by passing bipartisan legislation before the end of the year that includes a legislative solution for Dreamers.

As recent polls remind us, Americans across the political spectrum strongly support Congress delivering a bipartisan immigration fix this year that includes permanent status for immigrant populations, such as Dreamers and farm workers, paired with border security measures.

Excuses for inaction and delay aren’t useful. DACA is endangered now and the opportunity for a bipartisan breakthrough is primed for this year. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis has long called for a bipartisan fix for DACA and Dreamers and is reportedly working on a bill that would do just that, while retiring Sen. Richard Burr could ensure his legacy includes forging a deal that delivers on the public’s wishes.

We’re ready for a bipartisan legislative solution for DACA recipients and Dreamers to ensure they can continue to stay and succeed in North Carolina and America. Our state’s delegation should help ensure that this year, it finally gets done.

Leo M. Lambert is a professor and president emeritus of Elon University. Carol Quillen is a professor and president emerita of Davidson College and a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute.