Congress should do right by dreamers

If Republicans in Congress are undecided on the future of young immigrants brought to the United States as children, they could take a look at the most recent poll numbers on the question.

Only 1 in 5 Americans wants to deport the 800,000 young people given a reprieve under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. About 60 percent say those young people, known as "dreamers," should be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally.

Trump ended the program last month and gave Congress six months to enact legislation settling the future of the young adults, many of whom are pursuing college degrees and want to remain in the only country many of them have ever known.

Opponents of DACA accused Obama of acting illegally by creating the program without congressional action. Regardless of the legal question, there is little doubt that the right thing to do is to create a path to citizenship for the dreamers, who were brought here illegally but through no fault of their own.

Not only do the majority of Americans agree with that sentiment, it makes good sense for the nation's economy as well. Childhood arrivals now entering adulthood have much to offer this country, and it would be short-sighted to reject them out of hand. 

A story in Sunday's Mail Tribune profiled one such dreamer, Southern Oregon University student Linda Escot, who wants to attend medical school and become a pediatrician. She's not alone: The American Medical Association has written to Congress urging legal status for dreamers to help address a critical shortage of physicians across the country.

The doctor shortage stands at more than 8,000 now, and is projected to reach 61,700 to 94,700 in less than 10 years. Physicians and medical students with DACA status could add 5,400 doctors in the coming decades, helping to address that shortage.

Those who argue that dreamers will take jobs from American citizens may take some comfort from the 56,000 or so vacancies that will still remain.

The prospects for passing a permanent DACA fix were complicated over the weekend when the White House announced a list of conditions the president wants to place on any legislation. Those conditions include constructing a border wall with Mexico, hiring 10,000 more border officers, cutting off funding to sanctuary cities and accelerating the deportation of those who cross the border illegally.

There are arguments to be made for and against each of those items, but none of them has anything to do with the dreamers, who didn't cross the border yesterday, aren't seeking "sanctuary" from immigration authorities and aren't helping anyone sneak into the country. They just want to use the education they already have received to contribute to the country they consider their own as productive members of society.

Congress can impose conditions on citizenship for dreamers, but tying their legal status to unrelated enforcement provisions would be misguided.

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