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March of the DREAMers

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. In a move considered controversial by Democrats and Republicans alike, President Donald Trump called to end the Consideration for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program, established through executive order by President Barack Obama, allowed both deferred action and its renewal for undocumented immigrants in the United States for up to two years.

Immigration has always factored into political rhetoric in the . The U.S. was founded primarily by refugees fleeing religious persecution in post-Reformation Europe, and has adopted an image of being a nation of hosts. An inscription on the Statue of Liberty, perhaps the most persistent symbol of the U.S., famously sports the inscription, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

As the title implies, DACA was structured for childhood arrivals to the U.S. Enacted on July 15, 2012, DACA required, among other things, for applicants to have spent at least five consistent years in the U.S., possess a high school education and be free of any felonies or major misdemeanors.

Trump has been an unpopular president, with a current approval rating of 40 percent, and his decision to repeal DACA only deepened the resentment many already felt towards him and his administration. This resentment was present at a protest march held in Little Rock on Sept. 16. The march moved from Little Rock Central High School memorial to the state capital, and ended in several addresses by state representatives and DACA recipients. Protesters held their march to call for a quick solution to replace DACA before DHS began taking action on those affected.

Among those speaking was Vivian Flowers, representative of Arkansas’s District 17. Flowers decried several criticisms against DACA, including the idea that DACA recipients, and undocumented immigrants in general, produce a harmful effect on the U.S. economy and a greater financial strain on U.S. taxpayers. “This myth even has a name in economics. It’s called the ‘lump of labor’ fallacy.” Flowers said.

“First generation immigrants who enter the United States as children pay, on average, more in taxes than they receive over their lifetimes, regardless of their education level.” Flowers said. “DACA recipients end up contributing more than the average because they are not eligible for federal needs such as welfare, cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, healthcare, tax credits or anything else.”

This notion is largely true. The study Flowers references in her address, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, notes that immigrants, documented or otherwise, are necessary contributors to the health of the U.S. economy. “Immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth. The inflow of labor supply has helped the United States avoid the problems facing other economies that have stagnated as a result of unfavorable demographics, particularly the effects of an aging workforce and reduced consumption by older residents,” the study states.

This particular study, however, refers to true first-generation immigrants, who often do not know English, and did not grow up in a Western culture such as the U.S. These immigrants often take low-end jobs, often in construction, food service or factories. Those primarily affected by DACA are children who came to the U.S. when they were very young, and grew up with the U.S. as their home culture. These are people who often know no home other than the U.S.

The other claim Flowers attacked, that DACA recipients were taking U.S. jobs, is also insubstantial. As Flowers said, it’s called the “lump of labor” fallacy, and is well-known and debated in economics. “The myth assumes that the number of jobs in the economy is fixed, and that any increase in workers results in unemployment,” Flowers said. “It ignores economic growth of a nation, it ignores job growth that comes from entrepreneurship, or that comes from people working and spending money.”

The repeal of DACA has stirred the debate surrounding undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. While many senators have proposed different versions of a piece of legislation that would allow these immigrants a path to citizenship, the idea has never persisted through the senate or the house on either the state or federal level. These pieces of legislation are known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM act.

The addresses made at the September 17 protest touched on both DACA and the DREAM Act, as both pieces of legislation address similar populations of undocumented citizens. The DREAM Act, however, typically casts a wider net, allowing those who entered the U.S. under the age of 18 to begin the path to citizenship. The DREAM Act would not offer immediate citizenship to any undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., but would instead offer a conditional path to citizenship.

Juan Manuel Mendez, community leader, activist and advocate for DACA and the DREAM act, said that no one he knows is trying to shirk the responsibility of citizenship. “We need to take the approach to allowing those people who are here to go through the background checks, to go through the channels of becoming legal,” Mendez said.

“A question that gets thrown at us a lot of times as DREAMers is ‘why don’t you just get in line? Why don’t you just do things the right way?’ To those people, I say, hold my hand, take me to the line, and I’ll get in. Unfortunately for us, that line doesn’t exist.” Mendez said.

Mendez left with a bald statement, reflecting one of the pillars of the debate surrounding immigration reform and legislation, and its effect on the U.S. economy: “We need to come to terms with the fact that deporting 11 million people is not something that is reasonable.”

SAMUEL CROSS-MEREDITH – Editor