The writer is chief diversity officer at Doane University in Crete, Nebraska.
On June 5, the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. With it, our country took a step towards protecting 1.3 million DACA-eligible residents and more than 318,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders who live in the U.S. Nebraska’s own Rep. Don Bacon chose to do the right thing. He crossed the aisle and voted for the good of our state.
That matters to me. As chief diversity officer at Doane University, I help young people — including immigrants — become educated and productive graduates, who make important civic and economic contributions to our state.
I also know from personal experience how important it is to give young, striving immigrants a chance to put down permanent roots here. My dad was a migrant worker from rural Chihuahua, Mexico, who spent years picking apples, oranges and alfalfa across the United States, before he secured a meatpacking job in Nebraska. That job allowed our family of six to build a life in this country. Today, my siblings and I are all members of the American workforce.
But my dad wouldn’t have been able to take the position in the first place, had former Republican President Ronald Reagan not signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which offered some agricultural workers a pathway toward becoming citizens. That opportunity matters. Today, our nation stands at a similar crossroads regarding Dreamers and temporary protected status holders. With the House passage of the American Dream and Promise Act, I sincerely hope we’re on our way to offering so many valuable, contributing U.S. residents a way to legalize their status once and for all.
Providing permanent legal protections is undeniably good for the country. A new report released this month by the bipartisan, nonprofit New American Economy, shows the outsize impact that DACA-eligible residents and TPS holders have on the U.S. economy. In 2017, 93% of DACA-eligible immigrants and 94% of TPS beneficiaries were active in the labor force. Together, they paid $5.5 billion in annual taxes and held $25.2 billion in spending power. Approximately 43,000 DACA-eligible immigrants are entrepreneurs, many of them creating jobs for Americans, and more than one out of every 10 TPS holders, or 10.5%, are self-employed.
In 1995, my father was part of a wave of Latin American workers who filled labor shortages in the meatpacking plants. My uncles, aunts and grandparent have filled similar roles in Nebraska. Today, a new tide of immigrants from Somalia, Kenya, and other African nations are addressing current shortages, ensuring that Americans across the country have meat on their tables. These immigrants have the same goals as their American neighbors: to live in a safe community, get a good education, work hard and raise children who can achieve great things.
Chambers of Commerce in Lincoln and Omaha endorsed the American Dream and Promise Act, noting that immigrants are a crucial part of keeping Nebraska’s economy healthy. In our state, immigrants contribute $949 million in annual taxes and hold $2.9 billion in annual spending power.
If we want to tap the full potential of our nation, we have to modernize immigration policy. Every day that we delay sets us back. Bacon understands this, and I applaud him for standing for stronger communities. In supporting Nebraska’s Dreamers and TPS holders, we are doing what’s best for the economy of our state and our country.