It’s hard to imagine what Fresno County would look like without the thousands of immigrants from all over the world who make up our communities, our culture, and our workforce. This includes the young immigrants called “Dreamers” — those who were brought to the United States as children without documentation and, now as young adults, are working to remain in the land of opportunity and realize the American dream.
Fresno County is home to an estimated 23,000 of these Dreamers, of whom approximately 95 percent are either currently employed —paying taxes, serving communities, and supporting their families — or students, learning important skills to become productive members of society. Uprooting these workers and students would spark massive turnover costs for employers, slash household spending, and dampen state and local tax revenues.
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As a farmer, I know immigrants are a crucial part of our region’s agricultural economy. As a member of the Fowler City Council, I see the local tax revenues that come from industries powered by our diverse workforce. And, as a proud native of Fowler who cares deeply about the future of our communities, I see every day how immigrants make so many essential contributions to our social fabric.
I know I’m not alone in seeing the important role these Dreamers play, not just in our immediate community, but throughout the San Joaquin Valley. While the fate of Dreamers remains uncertain, they do have champions in Congress, including our own Rep. David Valadao, whose steadfast support of the Dream Act legislation sets an example for other Valley representatives.
If passed, the Dream Act would finally put to rest the ambiguities and legal uncertainties that have plagued Dreamers for years. Imagine growing up here in the Valley where you attended public schools and saluted the Stars and Stripes alongside your classmates, as many Dreamers have, then learning that you are an undocumented immigrant only after trying to enroll in college or enlist in the military, and finally discovering that there is no clear way for you to reconcile your status.
As a stopgap measure, from 2012 to 2017, Dreamers had a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which granted eligible immigrants temporary residency and work permits in exchange for meeting strict criteria and paying numerous fees; but, in the absence of congressional authorization, DACA was repealed last year, putting nearly 800,000 young workers and students back on the chopping block.
The repeal of DACA has since been litigated endlessly, but the real solution is clear: Congress must act. Without congressional legislation, nearly 800,000 Dreamers could face the threat of deportation — a disaster that economists estimate would cost our national GDP about $460 billion over the next decade plus hamper businesses with $3.4 billion in employee turnover and reduce contributions to Medicare and Social Security by roughly $25 billion.
The Dream Act would avert this disaster by restoring Dreamers’ protections from deportation, safeguarding their work permits, and creating an earned pathway to citizenship, combined with smarter border security and a comprehensive immigration strategy.
Not everyone sees the value in resolving the dilemma facing Dreamers. Partisan gridlock in Washington has stymied Congress from doing its job for years while the ambiguity and confusion continue to produce fear and helplessness in Dreamers.
But I’m not surprised that Rep. Valadao does see it. Dreamers are an indispensable part of Fresno County as well as the rest of California. I only hope that California’s other representatives wake up to this fact and turn the dream into reality.