In early September, President Trump ordered an end to the Obama-era program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation, calling it an “amnesty-first approach” and urging Congress to pass a replacement before he begins phasing out its protections in six months. As early as March, officials said, some of the 800,000 young adults brought to the United States illegally as children who qualify for the DACA program will become eligible for deportation. The five-year-old policy allows them to remain without fear of immediate removal from the country and gives them the right to work legally. The Dreamers as they are called are eligible for temporary work permits, Social Security numbers and protection from deportation.

The solution for the 800,000 Dreamers is for Congress to pass the DREAM Act ( Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). The DREAM Act is a legislative proposal for a multi-phase process for illegal immigrants in the United States that would first grant conditional residency and upon meeting further qualifications, permanent residency. This legislation was first introduced in August 2001 by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and has since been reintroduced several times but has failed to pass.

Members of Congress have introduced several forms of this bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The U.S. House passed a bill Dec. 8, 2010, by a vote of 216-198. I am proud to have been a strong supporter of the DREAM Act during my time in Congress. During my 14 years in Congress, my support for comprehensive immigration reform was based on the idea that America is a country of immigrants, including my own grandparents, who have contributed to the greatness of communities all over America and the greatness of our country.

There is no dispute that America has millions of illegal immigrants living in our communities. The majority of the immigrants are working, paying taxes and most likely doing work Americans don’t care to do. These jobs include landscaping work, construction jobs, jobs in the service industries such as fast food restaurants, hotel work, agricultural work such as picking fruits and vegetables. They are huge contributors to our economy.

According to a POLITICO/Morning Consult survey, a majority of Americans think that immigrants who benefit from DACA should NOT be forced to leave the country. Fifty eight percent of respondents think recipients of DACA should be allowed to stay and become citizens if they meet certain requirements, while just 15 percent said they should be deported from the U.S.

All of us who have lived in Central Illinois all of our lives know good, decent, law-abiding people who are living in our communities who deserve a path to citizenship. Congress should begin the debate and fix DACA by passing comprehensive immigration reform and passing the DREAM Act.

Ray LaHood

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