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Let’s give immigrants the protections they deserve


The Dream and Promise Act, proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives and cosponsored by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) recently, offers a glimmer of hope to Long Island’s immigrant community.

The legislation, if enacted into law, would provide a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” — children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 — and those who have been granted Temporary Protected Status, or asylum, in the U.S. because they fled war, famine or natural disaster in their home countries.

It’s about time that the federal government recognize the important contributions of these hard-working immigrants by granting them permanent resident status, which the Dream and Promise Act would do. For too long, they have been in limbo, uncertain of their futures, and now many must live in constant fear of deportation, despite having played by the government’s rules, including paying their taxes.

If the legislation were to become law, immigrants with DACA and TPS status would be granted conditional permanent resident status for 10 years, after which they would be eligible to apply for citizenship.

Before 2017, Dreamers were protected under DACA, an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA, which came into force under President Obama in 2012, has allowed children who were brought here as undocumented immigrants to obtain Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses, and to enroll in college and work. President Trump ended the program, despite pleas on both sides of the aisle to keep it, a year and a half ago. But some 800,000 people are still protected under DACA.

DACA remains in effect only because court challenges led to an injunction against Trump’s action, allowing DACA recipients to continue to renew their status. The Supreme Court recently decided not to take up the case until October, at the earliest, so the lower-court injunction will remain in effect at least into 2020.

TPS was established in 1990, under Republican President George H.W. Bush. It was long considered by Democrats and Republicans to be a humanitarian measure that extended a helping hand to those in the direst of straits. It protected an estimated 300,000 people from 10 countries. Trump eliminated TPS for the three largest immigrant groups protected by it — Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians. That decision, too, has been tied up in the courts, and injunctions have temporarily provided relief to some, but not all, TPS holders.

In all, some 33,000 Long Island immigrants are covered by DACA and TPS. Most of them are good people caught up in a very messy world. Many have purchased homes and started businesses here. It is inhumane that, with the stroke of a pen, the president could take away their lives just like that, despite their having lived here legally.

The trouble is, there’s relatively little hope that the Dream and Promise Act will pass, given the current political climate in Washington. Some 200 members of the House have signed on to the bill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she supports it. But even if it were to pass the House, it would also have to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, and Trump would have to sign it. There’s relatively little chance of that happening,

During the recent government shutdown, Trump offered certain limited protections for DACA and TPS holders in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. People are not bargaining chips, retorted Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat of New York. The proposal was dead on arrival in Congress.

And so the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants remains in the balance, with no home country to call their own. In reality, their fate will hinge on the results of the 2020 presidential election. If the Senate were to flip Democratic and the president were to lose the White House, then suddenly the Dream and Promise Act would stand a very good chance of passing.

For decades, we, as a nation, have stumbled when it comes to immigration policy. We claim to be a nation of immigrants. We say we appreciate immigrants’ work ethic, their desire to make it here. Yet at every turn, we throw up roadblocks for them.

It’s about time the U.S. ends its schizophrenic relationship with immigrants and provides the protections they need and deserve. The Dream and Promise Act would be a step in the right direction.