DACA supporters rallied outside the Supreme Court in November 2019 as the court heard arguments about the future of the program. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Pickering)

A coalition of Texas business and higher education institutions is supporting permanent legal protections for so-called Dreamers, people brought to the country as children without proper documents. But the proposal stops short of providing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 2 million Dreamers, something Democrats say is crucial.

Woody Hunt

“To continue to grow our economy, Texas must retain its existing workforce and talent.  With 96% of DACA recipients working or in school, they are some of our state’s highest achieving and most talented assets,” said Woody Hunt, senior chairman of the board of the El Paso-based Hunt Companies. “They fill critical positions in industries that keep our state competitive, such as manufacturing, construction, technology, and hospitality.  Nationwide, more than half a million Dreamers are essential workers.  During the pandemic, Texas Dreamers have helped keep our state safe.” 

Hunt was one of several speakers at a virtual presentation Tuesday to announce the creation of the Texas Opportunity Coalition, which is supporting “targeted” immigration reform, including permanent legal status for Dreamers. Other speakers included Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Republican political consultant Karl Rove; Justin Yancy, president of the Texas Business Leadership Council; and Juan Carlos Cerda, a recipient of legal protection under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals who is business outreach manager for the Texas Business Immigration Coalition.

“Unfortunately, DACA is only a temporary solution for Dreamers like me, and we need permanent legal solutions that allow us to continue contributing to our local communities,” Cerda said. 

Former President Trump reversed Obama’s 2012 order protecting DACA recipients from deportation, but the Supreme Court struck down Trump’s action last year. But protections from an executive order are tenuous. President Biden has proposed a sweeping immigration reform plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people currently living in the country without legal authorization, including DACA recipients.

The plan outlined by the Texas Opportunity Coalition is far more modest than Biden’s plan, though Hunt, Rove and other speakers said they personally supported more far-reaching immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for those currently without legal status.

“I think we have chosen to start where we think we’ve got the greatest public support, which is with the Dreamers. Hopefully a model that shows success there can lead to the dialogue on other parts of immigration reform,” Hunt said.

Rebecca Shi, executive director of the Texas Business Immigration Coalition, said her organization supports “federal immigration reform that strengthens the economy, creates jobs and provides a path to legal status and citizenship for the 11 million.” She said failure to reach bipartisan agreement on immigration reform set the stage for Donald Trump’s presidency.

“We just finished four years of the politics of hate and division. President Trump was able to polarize against immigrants because this issue has festered unresolved without any serious legislative attempt for 35 years,” said Shi, who said her mother came to the United States without authorization and recently achieved legal status. “And for the last 35 years, we have accepted an underclass of workers that the economy is heavily dependent on. That they are essential and unequal is incompatible with the world’s greatest democracy.

Republican President George W. Bush and Democrat Obama supported comprehensive immigration reform but were unable to win congressional approval. The Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform with bipartisan support in 2013, during Obama’s presidency, but the Republican-controlled House never voted on the issue.

Polls repeatedly show high levels of bipartisan support for normalizing the status of people who came to the country as children without authorization. But Congress has failed to pass legislation to protect Dreamers. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, killed such an attempt in 2020, saying the bill amounted to “amnesty” for people who came to the country illegally.

Cruz’s Texas colleague, Cornyn, said legislative protection for Dreamers is a must.

“Despite all the ways Dreamers strengthen our country and our communities, they’re living in a constant state of uncertainty about their futures. We must take action that will give them the certainty they deserve, and the only way to do that is through legislation,” Cornyn saidt. “We need to learn from the lessons of the past, and begin working on smaller packages that can gain broad support, and hopefully build trust in the process.”

However, immigrant advocates and many Democrats have said protection for Dreamers must be part of broader immigration reform. 

Several El Paso organizations have signed on as supporters of the Texas Opportunity Coalition’s Dreamers plan, including the El Paso Chamber, the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, El Paso Community College, and the Borderplex Alliance.

Cover photo: DACA supporters rallied outside the Supreme Court in November 2019 as the court heard arguments about the future of the program. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Pickering)

Disclosure: the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation is a financial supporter of El Paso Matters.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.