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Editorial: Lifting up the lamp for 'Dreamers'
Congress should allow hard-working immigrants to share in America’s promise
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Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program demonstrate Sept. 3, 2017, on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Consider this scenario: Robbers flee the scene of a crime in a getaway car with a baby strapped in the back seat. Police stop the car and arrest the culprits. Do they throw the baby in jail as well for being party to the crime?

Perhaps this metaphor seems strained, but to those who believe the young immigrants known as “Dreamers” deserve a chance to stay in the only country they call home, it’s appropriate.

The debate is raging in Washington is over the status of these 800,000 immigrants who were brought across the border illegally as young children by their parents. They have grown up here without documentation or citizenship status, and technically face deportation if discovered.

The Trump administration has rescinded an order from the Obama era that withheld deportation for such people who registered under his Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program. A federal court has blocked that move. Now the third branch of government is involved, with leaders of both parties in Congress discussing how to make their status permanent through legislation in line with the Dream Act proposed in years past.

These people did not willingly come here, nor violate any law. They go to school, speak English and have assimilated into their adopted country even if their parents struggled to do so. Many have never visited their birth country even as they still embrace its culture. Some attend colleges in Hall County and elsewhere; others serve in the military or plan to do so. They are fully ingrained in American life.

Now they want the right to pursue their educations and careers without the risk of being sent back to what is, to them, a foreign land. Though the debate over illegal immigration has many facets and gray areas, this one seems cut and dried, even to most hard-line conservatives who oppose “amnesty.” These kids make the country better.

But politics being what it is, Republicans want legal status for the Dreamers wrapped into a deal that would gain other immigration reforms. The administration is seeking funding for increased border security (aka, “the wall”) and an end to visa lotteries and “chain migration” allowing relatives of documented immigrants into the country legally.

Also on the table is a revised legal immigration system, with Sen. David Perdue of Georgia as a chief sponsor, that would favor those who bring specific skills and education into the country.

Thus, the Dreamers are being used as poker chips in a deal both sides can support. Perhaps it will work to their advantage and lead to overdue reform. But if not, Congress shouldn’t throw in the towel on allowing them to pursue their future goals because leaders can’t agree on other matters.

Immigration reform at all levels is badly needed, but there is no consensus. Even as the president met last week with congressional leaders to discuss the topic before TV cameras, federal agents were targeting undocumented workers in convenience stores in 17 states. 

Then the president, as he tends to do, threw a rabid squirrel into the tea party with his alleged vulgar comment about developing nations in Africa and Latin America, saying we don’t want more immigrants from such countries. Many read his crude phrase as racism, and rightly so, but it’s equally elitist by assuming only certain people are worthy of becoming Americans.

Merit-based immigration, as echoed by the president’s comments, is intended to welcome only those who fit a specific profile of success defined by education level, job skills and financial earning potential. Yet this discounts the efforts of many who fill jobs that have value. If only highly skilled immigrants are allowed, who will pick vegetables, make up hotel beds, build houses and cook meals? These jobs are key to the economy, and those who fill them should not be disrespected or treated as a burden.

America needs all kinds of workers — doctors, scientists and computer designers, sure, but also those who work with their hands at jobs many U.S. native-born don’t want. They still can be productive members of society. 

The motto on the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” It says nothing about requiring high-tech skills or  advanced degrees to enter the harbor.

A TV news commentator recently summed it up this way: America is not a singular race of people as much as an idea of freedom and self-determination that people from many races and backgrounds can adopt, as they have for centuries. Rather than shut out those who accept our values, the nation should welcome them to the party and give them a chance to achieve and earn their way toward citizenship.

That begins with those who came here as kids, not by choice, and who love their country even as they embrace the heritage of their original homeland, just as those from Europe and Asia have done before. They should not be punished or rewarded, just acknowledged for being what they are: Americans.

Monday, we celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday on his actual birthday, a few months before the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Had that assassin’s bullet missed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, it’s not hard to imagine King, if able at age 89, taking up the Dreamers’ cause to help codify them as true Americans. This issue falls within his challenge to judge people “by the content of their character” rather than race or other criteria.

Congress should honor his memory by giving the Dreamers what they deserve: Legal status and a chance to succeed in their country.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.