Sergiu Voicila is one of the group of immigrants known as Dreamers. An undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States as a child, he has been spared from the threat of deportation under a groundbreaking program established in 2012 by President Barack Obama. The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, offered Voicila, now 25 and living in Winthrop, a work permit and protection from deportation.
The five-year-old program, which has protected an estimated 800,000 young immigrants, has faced an uncertain fate under President Trump. Just this week, it was revealed that officials in the Trump administration want to use the future of the program as a bargaining chip with Congress, threatening to end the popular program unless Congress pays for a border wall and more detention facilities, and curbs legal immigration.
Politically, that’s a terrible deal; morally, it’s a sinister way to hold Dreamers’ lives hostage to the nativist wing of the Republican party and the Trump administration. Still, the fact that Trump hasn’t ended the Obama program thus far is good news. During the campaign, he vowed to rescind the program. Then, as president, he promised to treat Dreamers “with heart” and told them they could rest easy because they wouldn’t be targeted. In June, his administration quietly allowed the Obama-era program to continue. As a response, a coalition of Republican officials from 10 states are threatening to sue to block the program if Trump doesn’t end it by Sept. 5.
Rather than keep Dreamers in limbo, the sensible solution is for Congress to take away Trump’s ability to threaten the Dreamers by approving stand-alone legislation enshrining the program into law. There is ample public support and the potential of bipartisan momentum: Nearly 8 out of 10 voters support allowing Dreamers to stay in the country. In July, senators Richard Durbin and Lindsey Graham filed a new iteration of the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent legal status to more than 1 million Dreamers.
Thanks to his protected status, Voicila, who came to Boston with his parents from Romania in 2004, graduated from Lesley University and completed his first year of law school at Boston College. “To me it’s a human rights issue. It’s one thing to say, ‘We’re not going to let as many people in,’ but you’re talking about uprooting someone to a country with no connections and separating families. I know very little about Romania!”
Eliminating the program would have a devastating economic impact. The Center for American Progress estimated that such an action would result in a loss of nearly $460 billion from the nation’s GDP over the next 10 years.
Beyond the economic hit, there is a strong moral case to be made for keeping Dreamers here, one that rightly resonates across the political spectrum and transcends partisan rancor. Graham delivered a passionate plea when introducing his legislation: “To the Republican Party: Who are we? What do we believe? The moment of reckoning is coming. When they write the history of these times, I’m going to be with these kids.”
At a time when the nation sorely needs bipartisan, high-minded leadership, the fate of the Dreamers poses a new test of conscience. With a president increasingly pandering to the darkest elements of his political base, Congress should ensure that Dreamers remain at home in their country.