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As Houston rebuilds, it will need Dreamers

A woman held up a sign in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, during an immigration reform rally at the White House.Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Nowhere is the cruelty of ending existing protections for undocumented workers more obvious than in hurricane-ravaged Houston. As President Trump contemplates unraveling DACA, the Obama-era promise to undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children, Houston puts in sharp relief the value of keeping the program in place and letting its beneficiaries — the so-called Dreamers — live their dream.

A real-life case in point: Lucia Guerrero, a young immigrant from Mexico who lives in the Houston area, missed work two days this week. Even though Hurricane Harvey spared the home she lives in with her parents and two brothers in Rosharon, just south of Houston, their street remained flooded knee-deep for three days.


Once the waters receded, Guerrero, a certified dialysis technician, finally made it to the kidney care clinic she works at in a Houston suburb on Wednesday. The 26-year-old and her family suffered no major losses in Harvey. But Guerrero, who provides life-saving care to Houston dialysis patients, may not be able to return to work at all.

DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has granted work permits and a reprieve from deportation to about 800,000 young immigrants — including Guerrero and her two brothers. Ending the protections for these workers at a time like this in Houston would create a new humanitarian disaster on top of the existing humanitarian disaster.

Barely a week after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the full extent of the damage to the city’s public health infrastructure is still unknown. But the storm’s impact will reverberate. The chronically ill — like those who need constant and reliable access to a life-saving dialysis machine — will feel the aftereffects for months to come. Guerrero says her clinic is now serving double the
patients they typically see. Other clinics are already struggling.


Experts warn of “the long, long tail” of natural disasters. The city’s medical infrastructure and patients’ access to health services will likely remain crippled for months to come. That’s what happened in Katrina’s aftermath: New Orleans’s health care landscape changed entirely, with many unable to access care a year after the storm.

While weighing the tough slog ahead in Houston, Trump is considering a plan that would undermine the recovery. The administration faces an arbitrary deadline of Sept. 5 to decide whether to end DACA. Killing the program would bring job losses to Houston at a time when the city needs able bodies the most.

Earlier this week, the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress and FWD.us, an immigration advocacy organization founded by tech leaders, issued a report on the projected job losses in the labor market should the Obama protections end. According to CAP, if the program were terminated, Harris County would stand to lose at least 28,000 workers and $1.6 billion annually in local GDP.

President Trump has lauded emergency personnel in Houston, tweeting: “First responders have been doing heroic work. Their courage & devotion has saved countless lives — they represent the very best of America!” Someone should tell him that group certainly includes undocumented immigrants — young people like Guerrero, fulfilling a critical job for Houston.

Immigrants with work permits issued under the Obama program are also working as welders, roofers, nurse assistants, and in scores of other professions that will be critical for the city’s recovery. Ending the program would hobble Houston just as it begins to rebuild.