The gasps, if any, were muffled in Malheur County last week among those known as “Dreamers.” Word that President Trump was ending a special immigration program for children certainly touches many corners of our community. The president wants Congress to act, and it should.
The uncertainty about the fate of Dreamers probably produced an understandable shudder in our immigrant community. No one can say how many Dreamers we have here, but given the deep ties to Mexico of our region, you can guess that scores of the 11,000 in Oregon call Malheur County home. They are a quiet population, going about their business and shying from the public spotlight. That’s especially true now.
Dreamers have been provided protection from deportation if they were brought into the country illegally as children. They didn’t get protection automatically. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known by the shorthand DACA, young people have been given federal government permission to stay under the right circumstances. They have to have been under 16 when they entered the U.S. They must be in school. They must pass a background check to catch any felons or other serious criminal conduct.
The program was set up to reward those industrious, studious young immigrants who want to be part of the American dream. They have to work for what they get. That is, after all, the American way – hard work has its rewards. It would take a steel-hearted soul to look such an individual in the eye and say: Pack your bags. You’re going back.
That should be especially true in Malheur County, where Latinos have become such a key part of our community. They contribute labor, service, and culture to the well being of the community. The federal threat to end the immigration program needlessly disrupts and upsets our friends and neighbors. It introduces even more fear into a community already worried about the knock on the door.
The president has punted the matter to Congress, and subsequently reportedly has had kind words for Dreamers. So have our two U.S. senators. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, predictably came out opposing Trump’s actions and vowed to protect Dreamers as they can with federal legislation.
Congressman Greg Walden has been less clear about whether he will protect young, ambitious immigrants now living under federal tolerance. He made a statement about the need for immigration reform and said he had “compassion” for Dreamers. He gave them no more comfort than a pat on the back. But Walden is keenly aware of the role immigrants play in our agricultural economy. He noted at a town hall not long ago that without guest workers in his home county of Hood River, “the cherries would still be hanging on the trees.”
Walden, as a key leader in Congress, is positioned to be sure Dreamers aren’t left hanging themselves. They deserve certainty about their fate, especially since many face an October deadline to renew existing protections. Walden should join our senators in declaring unequivocal support for Dreamers and using his political muscle to give them stability.
Meantime, Malheur County residents should express their own support for such action. Immigration policy generally is a mess, that’s true. But when it comes to protecting and encouraging young immigrants to pursue and abide the American dream, there should be no debate. – LZ