Commentary: Utah delegation can lead the charge for a standalone DREAM act

When Donald Trump announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he made a very cynical political decision. He tried to have it both ways: assuage his nationalist base by fulfilling a mean-spirited campaign promise, while at the same time claiming compassion for DREAMers by urging congress to take up the issue. Trump is playing a dangerous game of political hot potato, and our young people are caught up in the middle.

As an employee of the University of Utah, working with Salt Lake City’s west side communities to strengthen pathways to higher education, I have had the privilege of knowing many young people we are calling DREAMers – youth brought to the U.S. at an early age without documentation. Some of them have DACA status, and some do not. All of them are assets to our state. It’s not just that they deserve the opportunity to study and work in the U.S. (which they do). It is that they are making us better.

For years, politicians and the media have been engaged in a vicious battle over how to frame the so-called DREAMers. For some, they are criminals, “illegals,” foreigners whose existence here threatens our lawful way of life. For others they are innocents, wistful “dreamers” caught up in a crime they couldn’t control. Neither of these images matches my experience working with these young people.

What I see are young adults who work hard for their families and their communities. Who take time from their university studies to tutor our children, immigrant and US-born alike. Who graduate to become teachers, medical professionals, construction workers, computer programmers, and much more. Who offer unique and valuable perspectives on our schools, our state, and our country. Honestly, they have taught me a lot. And when I meet their parents, I see people whose only “crime” is being willing to do what it takes to ensure their children have good lives. Based on the available evidence, they’ve done a great job.

With the termination of DACA, legislators have an opportunity to step up and refuse to play hot potato with the lives of our youth. The Utah delegation can lead the way to passing a clean, standalone DREAM Act that provides a pathway to citizenship. Senator Hatch was one of the original co-sponsors of the DREAM Act when it was first introduced in 2001, and has criticized the rescinding of DACA. Now community groups are asking Hatch to reprise his role as co-sponsor for a new bill. Certainly our immigration system is broken and more comprehensive solutions are needed. But that should not slow us down from addressing the precarious and fearful position in which 800,000 DACA recipients find themselves.

Paul Kuttner is theEducation Pathways Partnership Manager at the University of Utah’s University Neighborhood Partners.