Washington Business Journal: Viewpoint: Ending DACA will harm our region, economy

By Irma Becerra – Contributing Writer

“Home is here!”
That’s what dozens of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients chanted while walking out onto the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, standing in front of hundreds of supporters, activists and organizers. And truly, this is home. DREAMers are deeply ingrained in American communities, have lived here for decades and are American in every way. Through no fault of their own, they were brought to this country at an early age and now strive to make America stronger by impacting every sector of the economy.
But now, we stand at a crossroads. Supreme Court justices heard arguments in November surrounding the legality of the DACA program and are expected to decide by June whether they will uphold the current administration’s efforts to terminate it. Even a SCOTUS decision that favors the DREAMers will not remove all of the fear and uncertainty that follows them every day — not until Congress can agree on a permanent, bipartisan solution to this crisis. However, a ruling against DACA would result in negative consequences on many fronts.
As we watch this real-life drama unfold in front of our eyes, I can’t help but think of my own story. My family was caught in the violence of the Cuban Revolution and faced death by the Castristas, for no other reason than my grandparents’ self-made wealth. In their early 20’s, my parents were forced to leave Cuba with me, their 8-month-old child, or face death by firing squad against the paredón, Spanish for “big wall.” Luckily at that time, U.S. policy toward Cubans was welcoming, and we were granted U.S. citizenship as political refugees. That meant when it came time for me to go to college, I could receive Pell Grants, federal loans and work to put myself through my classes at the University of Miami.
Unfortunately, our DREAMers, many of whom escaped violence in their home countries with their families much like we did from Cuba, are unable to receive Pell Grants and federal loans or work to put themselves through college. According to a Center for American Progress survey, 93% of DREAMers who are able to access higher education said that because of DACA, they pursued educational opportunities that they previously could not. As president of Marymount University, I have personally witnessed how DREAMers are a vital part of our colleges and universities.
In 2019, Marymount University partnered with TheDream.US, the nation’s largest college access and success program for DREAMers, to offer a national scholarship to these determined students. Statistics from TheDream.US show that 84% of its scholars intend to complete a master’s, doctoral or professional degree after college, with 57% indicating they will pursue a degree that requires occupational licensing. After they achieve those goals, DREAMers boost the U.S. economy by contributing their skills and talents to the workforce. Our DREAMers are paying billions of dollars in federal, state and local taxes. Can this country really afford to turn our backs on the roughly 700,000 young people who are giving America their best?
With a number that substantial, it’s important for us to remember the impact that each individual has on our society as a whole. We have roughly 80 DREAMer students at Marymount, and each one brings the desire to contribute positively to their community and reach their full potential.
For instance, take Chelssi Flores, a junior at Marymount studying biology who came to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. She wasn’t sure if college education was possible for her — but fortunately, she was connected to Marymount and learned how our university can make education affordable. She is now closer to her dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist.
Fellow junior David Jandres Polio arrived in the U.S. at just 2 years old, escaping the violence and poverty in El Salvador. Vulnerable to deportation, he calls the rollout of the DACA program in 2012 a “sign of God” that meant he could achieve his dreams in America. David is majoring in business administration, with hopes of someday becoming a tax lawyer.
The stories of Chelssi, David and so many other DREAMers appeal to me personally because I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. These passionate and determined young people should not look at the years ahead with fear and apprehension, but with faith and confidence.
While nine Supreme Court justices may hold the futures of these DREAMers in their hands at the moment, there is still much you can do. Contact the senators and representatives from your district, and tell them to do all they can to vote on a pathway to citizenship — something that more than three-quarters of polled voters across party lines support.
After all, home is here for our DREAMers, as it is for me.

Irma Becerra is president of Marymount University.