Commentary: Time to go beyond DACA and pass real immigration reform

Utahns should be among the first to welcome immigrant communities.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "I am unafraid," said Ciriac Alvarez, a DACA dreamer and University of Utah graduate of Political Science and Sociology. Hundreds of We are Dreamers, a Utah pro-Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) group, marched in solidarity from the Utah Federal Building to the State Capitol with undocumented immigrants who will be affected by the end of DACA.

A legal decision coming out of a lower court in Texas halted the official federal processing of DACA applications, leaving over 50,000 potential Dreamers in limbo over their status, subsequently challenging their legal protections while living in the U.S.

As of 2018, an estimated 10.5 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. In Utah, over 10,000 people have been granted DACA status since 2012. But we are asking, is DACA enough, and are Utah’s leaders representing our values?

Court cases like the one from Texas continue to threaten the status of over 650,000 Dreamers in the U.S. When Orrin Hatch, Utah’s previous U.S. senator of 42 years and longest-serving member of that body, co-sponsored with Democrat Dick Durbin the original Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in 2001, he was not providing a sustainable solution for the estimated 7 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. at the time. Rather, he was kicking the can down the road for the next leaders of our country to confront.

Currently, there is a piece of substantial immigration reform, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021. If passed, this bill would grant permanent citizenship to DACA recipients, among others. However, of the bill’s 144 cosponsors in the House, and 26 cosponsors in the Senate, not a single Republican lawmaker has signed on to advance such an important piece of comprehensive legislation. In fact, aside from the usual on-air political pontifications and headline-grabbing issue-based legislation, Republican lawmakers have not submitted any comprehensive legislation on immigration reform for congressional review or approval, despite the constitution outlining immigration law in the duties and powers reserved for Congress and Congress only.

Though Hatch did not take immigration reform far enough in the early 2000s, he did attempt to address this complex situation in a bipartisan fashion. While the federal courts belabor the legal jurisdiction of the 2001 DREAM Act, Congress has the opportunity to provide a long-term comprehensive approach to this issue by passing legislation, like the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.

The 50,000 DACA applicants currently in limbo deserve stability, as do their 650,000 documented counterparts and the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. today. The recent passing of the budget resolution, allocating $107 billion to provide legal permanent status to undocumented immigrants has potential, but it is not a solution to our broken immigration system.

The time to act on comprehensive immigration reform is now, and we are joining the call for Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney to engage on this issue with their Democratic colleagues. In the chaos of the judicial and political circus which has defined the last 50 years of immigration legislation and societal commentary, we have lost the voices and the experiences of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. They are our neighbors, classmates, colleagues, educators and fellow worshipers.

Efforts to support the social and political enfranchisement of undocumented immigrants should not be on undocumented immigrants alone. Utahns have a reputation for community-centric values. Our community leaders came together from across the state to sign the Compact for Racial Equity. We are also one of the only states to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.

In Gov. Spencer Cox’s letter to President Joe Biden on Afghan refugee resettlement, we are reminded of the pioneers who fled religious persecution 170 years ago leading to Utah’s “long history of welcoming refugees from around the world.”

We as Utahns should be the first to step up and take action for the betterment of our immigrant communities.

Ellie Gallagher

Sonny Partola

Taylor Knuth

Elizabeth Gallagher, Sonny Partola and Taylor Knuth are Ph.D. students at the University of Utah currently researching topics in immigration and education.