Bernardo Castro: Honor Orrin Hatch’s legacy with real immigration reforms

Utah senator used to be a leader in defending Dreamers brought to the U.S. as children.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Sen. Orrin Hatch discusses his insights on the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 he introduced to bring reforms to the nation's immigration laws for high-skilled workers and an agriculture guest worker program at Zions Bank Building Founders Room, Wednesday, May 1,2013.

With the passing of former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Congress can best honor his legacy of compassionate policy-making by finishing what he started.

In 2001, when I was only 10 years old, Hatch reached across the aisle and joined forces with Democratic colleagues to introduce the first proposal in Congress to give undocumented immigrant minors, often called Dreamers, a legal future in America. Six years prior, my parents had boarded a plane with my siblings and me in hand, and a small box of items to flee dire circumstances in Mexico.

Hatch’s legislation was meant to create hope and opportunity for children like me. It would have established a means to earn permanent legal status in the U.S. by completing a two- to four-year degree or serving in the U.S. military before applying.

Twenty-one years later, thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, I have found the hope and opportunity that Hatch’s bill outlined — but not the permanence. I am proud of my business degree from Brigham Young University, of the small business I co-own with my wife and the life we’re building in the heart of Utah.

But Congress’s failure to pass the original DREAM Act, or any of the many bipartisan iterations of it since, leaves me at risk of being separated from all that I know and being deported to a country in which I have few connections and no memories.

Because DACA was created by administrative action, it remains at risk, leaving recipients like me in a constant state of uncertainty. Recent signaling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals indicates that I and the more than 600,000 current DACA recipients may lose this last thread of protection any day — unless Congress finally acts.

To some, it might seem odd that I hold Hatch as a beacon for others to follow amid such a toxic political climate.

In his later years, Hatch cast votes that some construed as anti-immigrant because of his advocacy for bolstering border security funding. But I think Hatch understood that immigration reform demands both parties at the table to make progress on a holistic approach.

In 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported more than 1.7 million encounters with migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. This significant increase includes Title 42 expulsions and Title 8 apprehensions. It accounts for single adults, family units and unaccompanied minors, and it paints a picture of a system that is failing and overwhelmed.

It’s clear there is a crisis that needs to be addressed with a humane solution.

During the same year, Dreamers contributed $32.9 million in Utah state taxes and held $305.5 million in purchasing power. More than three-quarters of DACA recipients fill roles deemed essential by the Department of Homeland Security, from medical professionals to farmers and ranchers. Our local economy will be faced with a perilous challenge without Dreamers like me in it.

The tendency of both parties is to pick one side of the issue and villainize the other. Under this de facto mode of operation in D.C., everyone loses. And it fails to reflect what most Americans really want: progress.

A recent poll by the National Immigration Forum found that 8 in 10 voters want solutions this year that strengthen the border, create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and ensure a legal and reliable workforce for America’s farmers and ranchers. These focuses are in line with reforms promoted by the Alliance for a New Immigration Consensus, a group of nearly 40 organizations across the faith, business, agriculture, education, national security and advocacy communities.

Sen. Hatch understood these simple tenets:

• The border needs securing.

• Dreamers need security.

• Our workforce needs stability.

To honor Sen. Orrin Hatch, his tenure and his legacy, it’s time for Congress to get to work.

Bernardo Castro

Bernardo Castro grew up in Hyrum, graduated from high school in Sandy, served an LDS mission in St. George and is the co-founder of Shop Taby, a size-inclusive women’s clothing brand, located in Provo.