OPINION

Business leaders: Give immigrant 'Dreamers' the legal status and certainty they deserve

As we emerge from COVID, Congress should step up at last for 'Dreamers,' their families and America. It's humane, economically sensible and overdue.

Matt Shay, Jay Timmons, Chuck Robbins and Dan Carroll
Opinion contributors

As business leaders, job creators and entrepreneurs who employ and represent tens of millions of American workers across multiple industries, we know firsthand the enormous challenges the country faces in building back from the ongoing public health and economic crises brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As the Biden administration and Congress continue to work on urgently needed recovery efforts, one policy stands out as a commonsense, bipartisan reform that will create and preserve jobs while investing in our workforce and providing stability and certainty to millions of young Americans and their families: permanent legislative protections for "Dreamers," young immigrants brought here illegally as children.  

Dreamers are about 2 million young people who have lived the majority of their lives here in the United States, and they’re contributing to our communities and our economy every day. As we emerge from the pandemic’s devastation and disruption and build the next, better world, the humane and economically sensible thing to do is to welcome our Dreamers. 

We are pleased that the House has now passed The American Dream and Promise Act, and we encourage the U.S. Senate to act quickly on this issue as well.   

Living in limbo for far too long

For 20 years, Congress and multiple administrations have debated the fate of Dreamers. Lawmakers have brought forth legislation many times and yet, they’ve been unable to provide a permanent solution. Flip-flopping executive orders and multiple federal court decisions have only heightened tensions for these young Americans. They’ve been forced to live in limbo for far too long. Permanent legislative protection, passed by Congress and signed into law, is the only responsible path forward. We need to give Dreamers the certainty they deserve. 

Immigration rights activists on Nov. 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Far from affecting only the Dreamers themselves, the uncertainty in their lives has far wider impacts to the communities to which they contribute. Their inability to plan and build their lives, not knowing whether they may be forced out of their jobs or deported, has hindered our country’s economic growth and job creation, while forcing them to live in fear that they may be separated from their families and loved ones. Congress can do right by these young people while helping ensure that all industries benefit from a more prepared, stable workforce.   

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the contributions of Dreamers into even sharper focus. Nearly 1 million Dreamers work in essential front-line roles — in education, health care or medical research, in our food production supply chain and in vital sanitation jobs. They have helped to keep us all healthy, safe and cared for in the midst of this unprecedented crisis. Dreamers are our friends, colleagues and neighbors, as well as the parents of nearly 750,000 U.S. citizen children.They attend American schools, worship alongside us and contribute to our communities in countless ways. 

American except on paper

The overwhelming majority of Americans of all political backgrounds support offering legalization to Dreamers as a practical step because they understand that these young people — who came to our country at the average age of 6 — are American in every single way except on paper. Among our businesses and in nearly every sector across the economy, we are lucky to employ hundreds of thousands of these hardworking young people who bring their talents, skills and work ethic to growing the economy and driving innovation every day. They are valued team members whose contributions allow us to compete on a global basis, and many Dreamers are themselves entrepreneurs who have created American jobs for their communities.   

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As Congress and the new administration work to advance our economic and public health recovery, it’s well past time to act quickly and do the right thing for these young American Dreamers, and their families, communities and workplaces. Offering permanent legal protections and status to Dreamers reflects the best of our shared American values. As we continue to work together to rebuild, resolving Dreamers’ uncertain status should be an urgent priority.  

Matt Shay is president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. Jay Timmons (@JayTimmonsNAM) is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. Chuck Robbins (@ChuckRobbins) is chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems. Dan Carroll (@bytingtheapple) is co-founder and chief product officer of Clever.