By Yuliya Shulman
Art by Oleg Kiprensky
My colleague Rita* is a bright-eyed,energetic youth. She is lightning-fast, fiercely productive, a happy and friendly engineer. She offers many solutions and is always eager to help. In other words, she fits right into our small software development team. She is also not from here.
Being in the field for nearly twenty years, I have met pretty much every variety of “not from here.” After all, software engineers are the most diverse bunch on the planet. We speak many foreign languages, we observe different traditions, we work hard, we travel on assignments, we share vacation ideas, we celebrate releases, we commiserate failures, and we work through complex problems. And, eventually through all of this, we become friends.
At the team dinner several weeks ago, Rita made a cursory remark that she has never been outside the US. That sparked my interest. She admitted to liking travel, and yet, she never left our borders? I kept listening.
As it turns out, Rita is one of the Dreamers. She was brought to the US as a child by her undocumented parents, and she grew up without a chance to obtain proper papers. She received a good education. In fact, she was halfway through her masters degree in Applied Physics at a leading research university when DACA gave her a chance to legally enter the workforce.
My team was looking for an engineer, and Rita was the best of several dozens of applicants we interviewed. We have been working together for three years now, and I never thought I’d ever be contemplating the chance of losing her. But now that our president has issued the executive order to repeal DACA, losing Rita seems like a real possibility.
DACA is an executive order issued by President Obama, which gives undocumented immigrants brought to US as children the authorization to work for two years. Colloquially called Dreamers, these children have lived here all their lives, and unlike me, speak English without an accent. These kids often have at least a high school diploma, because our schools educate everyone, regardless of their immigration status. Rita is great example of a target group affected by the DACA repeal.
For three years that Rita has been registered with DACA, she has been working, paying taxes, and putting her money back into the US economy. She has never broken any laws, and she doesn’t remember ever living anywhere but the USA. So, why repeal the program?
According to some polls, as many as 71% of Americans support DACA. Among the arguments against DACA is the claim that the act leads down a “slippery slope” (if we allow this now, what will we allow later?) and that the US needs a “fear factor” argument (we’re sending a message to foreign nationals not to come to the US without proper documents).
But slippery slopes can be guarded against, and the fear factor can be better used on terror organizations. Grandfathering already registered Dreamers, blocking new arrivals of undocumented children, and/or limiting their access to public welfare guards against welfare fraud and taxpayer burden, while allowing them to continue leading productive lives, and contributing back to our economy.
If this administration made the boosting of US economy their priority, how is massive deportation of the taxpayer educated workforce fitting into the picture? Deporting undocumented immigrants, especially criminals, is one of the most common arguments made against DACA. However, the Dreamers are not criminals. DACA qualification process includes an extensive background check, and all the recipients are required to reapply every two years.
We, as society, have already paid for Dreamers’ education and healthcare, why not capitalize on the investment now? The repeal of DACA fails to benefit any member of US population, while hurting a group of US residents who are contributing to the economic growth of our nation. DACA applicants have obtained their legal permits to work and pay their taxes, instead of holding undocumented cash-only jobs.
With DACA repeal in effect, all of these two-year work permits will eventually expire. Dreamers will be forced out of their jobs, and eventually, out of the country where they grew up. The burden of paying for their tracking and deportation will land on the shoulders of the US taxpayers. According to Department of Homeland Security, in 2016 ICE spent 3.2 billion dollars on the handling of undocumented immigrants. Currently, Dreamers are not part of this cost, but that is about to change. The 800,000 young hard-working people, like my colleague Rita, are facing the most disruptive change to their lives, and it benefits no one.
*Name and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.