Every so often an issue arises which strikes at the very heart of our country’s identity. The polarizing topic of immigration is such an issue and each word used in our arguments signals which side of the divide we come from. The sheer magnitude of topics around immigration can be overwhelming and lead many to accept sound bites as fact, never really learning the truth. Here at North Park we have a diversity of opinion on immigration and these opinions are held intensely because they touch on that most fundamental of questions: “What does it mean to be an American?”
One of the most hotly debated issues currently is the status of 800,000 young recipients of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. These young people are often colloquially referred to as DREAMers, in reference to a piece of legislation entitled the DREAM Act (the Development and Relief for Alien Minors Act). This issue hit close to home for North Park University and many of our classmates were placed into legal limbo when President Trump rescinded DACA in September. Our Student Government Association released a statement supporting our DREAMers and we hosted a Justice Rally on campus. But many students still do not know what DACA is, what is at stake, and what is being debated.
DACA arose out of the failure to pass the DREAM Act, which would have provided legal status and an eventual path to citizenship for DREAMers. The Obama administration took action and issued a memo establishing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which carries a lot of requirements for eligibility. DACA recipients arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and at least five years before the memo’s issuance. They have passed a criminal background check with zero felonies and paid a fee of $465. They are enrolled in high school, a high school graduate, a GED holder or a part of the armed forces. They have to reapply for DACA every two years to receive protection. After fitting all these criteria, DACA recipients are allowed to legally work and obtain a driver’s license.
These seemingly small things have made a world of difference for DREAMers, allowing them to go to college, serve in the military, get a job, start a business, see an increase in their wages, pay taxes and more. This story is played out all across the country and according to the Center for American Progress (a center-left think tank), DACA will increase the total U.S. GDP by $460.3 billion over a decade. 91% of DACA recipients are employed (higher than the number for native borns) and 45% of DACA recipients are in school. Of those in school, 72% are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. In case readers think that these facts are a leftist conspiracy, the center-right, libertarian Cato Institute funded by the Koch brothers found that ending DACA would cost the government $60 billion in lost revenue, a reduction of $215 billion dollars in GDP over the next decade, and $6.3 billion dollars in costs to employers.
In opinion poll after opinion poll, the vast majority of Americans support DREAMers. A 2018 Pew Poll found that 74% of Americans and 50% of republicans support granting permanent legal status to students who came to the US illegally when they were children. Only 37% support building the wall. A 2018 CBS poll found that 87% of Americans support legal status for DREAMers and even a 2017 Fox News poll found 83% of Americans supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children - yes, that Fox News. The consensus that arises presents a nation remarkably united on this issue even in an era of intense polarization. Our leaders should take note and instead of using DACA to hold hostage and pass unpopular policies, like building a wall or reducing legal immigration, pass protections for DREAMers like so many of our fellow Vikings who strengthen this country and only know America as home.
Another area of immigration policy that impacts many of us here on campus is the U.S. refugee program. Many North Parkers tutor Albany Park’s refugee students through World Relief (a program I am involved in and highly recommend) and many of our congregations support refugees including the Evangelical Covenant Church which works with refugees across the globe. Contrary to the rumors spread by politicians, the Cato Institute reports the chance of an American being murdered by a refugee terrorist as 1 in 3.64 billion from 1975 to 2015. Since 1980, not a single American has been killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack. When it comes to economics, refugees benefit the nation as well. An August 2017 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that over a span of twenty years refugees end up contributing more in taxes than they take out in benefits. The two Notre Dame Economists who conducted the study, William N. Evans and Daniel Fitzgerald, also found that refugees who arrived before the age of 14 graduate high school and college at the same rates as native born Americans, an amazing feat given the disadvantages so many refugee students carry with them.
People are always entitled to their own opinions, but people are not entitled to their own facts. A commitment to evidence should lead us to understand that concerns about crime and immigration are flat out wrong. “Immigrants Commit Less Crimes” is an aptly titled article from a 2017 issue of Newsweek which cites data from the National Academy of Sciences, American Immigration Council and Cato Institute to show that immigrants do commit less crimes than native born Americans. Cities with the most immigrants, like New York City, are safer than they have been in half a century as shown in an article from the Marshall Project. Arguments about assimilation can be had but immigration skeptics must concede that on every standard, from learning English to becoming a naturalized citizen to intermarriage, the immigrants of today are performing better than many of our ancestors did as newcomers.
The skill composition of immigrants is debatable, but immigrants are undeniably more likely to start new businesses. According to “The Economic Case for Welcoming Immigrant Entrepreneurs” by the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants have founded some of our most innovative corporations. They increase economic growth, reduce deficits, and provide a much needed younger workforce to support our graying population (demonstrated in a 2013 Congressional Budget Office report). In fact, almost half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by American immigrants or their children, as stated by the Brookings Institute. Contrary to popular beliefs, the Cato Institute reports that immigrants use less welfare than native born Americans. Undocumented immigrants are, of course, ineligible for food stamps, social security, medicare or the Affordable Care Act although they often pay into those programs.
Even in concerns with illegal immigration, many people have a warped view of reality. The truth is this: There are fewer unauthorized border crossings now than at any time in American history (a trend which started under the Obama administration), according to the 2017 Border Security Report. The number of Mexicans currently returning to Mexico outweighs those crossing the border illegally, as detailed in a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center. A 2016 report from the Center for Migration Studies points out that most Americans who come to the U.S. illegally overstay visas and do not cross the Rio Grande, so a wall would not help. We are already spending more money than ever on border security and it is not clear how more will change anything, according to the budget statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Mass deportation is unrealistic, unpopular, insanely expensive, and would be a humanitarian catastrophe.
Immigrants make this country great. We have always known this to be true and it is born out of mountains of evidence. Even more compelling than the facts are the people behind these statistics and policy battles. If you have never sat down and had a conversation with a refugee or an immigrant, I advise you to do so. Volunteer for World Relief, donate to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, work to combat misinformation, be welcoming and unafraid. Be proud of North Parks University’s heritage as an institution founded and built by immigrants, because they were strangers once too. Some probably told them to stop speaking their language, some may have assumed that they would never become American, but they did; immigrants always do. If we are to make the twenty-first century an American century, we must welcome the stranger and believe in our country's unique capacity to take in the huddled masses and make something beautiful.