Menendez: As the Supreme Court debates DACA, my heart will be with the Dreamers

Menendez: As the Supreme Court debates DACA, my heart will be with the Dreamers

By:  Senator Bob Menendez
Star Ledger

Today, I will be inside the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As I listen, my heart will be with the almost 17,000 Dreamers from New Jersey and especially with those who will travel to Washington to stand outside the court as nine justices consider the case that will decide their futures.

Dreamers like 20-year-old Manny Sanchez, who has lived in the United States since he was a month old, and who first learned about his immigration status while preparing to get his driver’s license. As many other Dreamers, Manny dreams of joining the military to serve his country and defend our freedoms. Unfortunately, Manny hasn’t been able to join the Army and instead is studying and volunteering in his community as a member of their emergency medical service squad.

Or like Itzel Hernandez, who came to the U.S. with her mother when she was 10 years old. Itzel takes pride in being an active member of her community, by volunteering and working to improve the lives of others. From soup kitchens, to senior homes, to her local library, she does as much as she can to encourage others to be of service.

I will be also thinking of Adriana Medina, who came here at age 4 and today is a mother of three U.S.-born American children. Being undocumented motivated Adriana to help others in her community so after receiving DACA she was able to pursue education, a career and now works for a non-profit that provides free legal services to low income individuals in New Jersey. Although she loves what she does, Adriana is constantly reminded of her temporary status and that she could be separated from her children without DACA.

These stories of DACA beneficiaries are stories I have come to tell with a great sense of pride and patriotism. After years of fearless advocacy, the government asked young Dreamers for their trust and faith. Nearly 700,000 Dreamers — came out of the shadows, passed criminal background checks and paid fees. Despite their natural human instinct for protection, these young people voluntarily handed over personal information about themselves and their families to authorities they had been forced to hide from for most of their lives.

To this day, Senate Republicans have denied a vote on the House-passed American Dream and Promise Act. Instead, they offer a temporary reprieve for Dreamers in exchange for funding an ineffective wall at the southern border, altering the entire legal immigration system to slash family reunification, and making it harder for asylum seekers to be admitted into our country.

Even before DACA, Dreamers were an integral part of our country. Most have lived the majority of their lives in the U.S. and only pledge allegiance to the American flag. The facts are clear: the majority of DACA recipients are employed and many are entrepreneurs employing workers. A quarter of DACA recipients over age 25 have bought their first home. And ending DACA would cost New Jersey’s economy over $1.5 billion annually. Dreamers’ lives are intertwined with ours.

Think about it. Despite the frightening uncertainty, the Trump Administration has inflicted in their lives, Dreamers continue to inspire us with their courage and determination to keep the dream alive. Every day, they have continued going to school, serving our country, starting businesses and raising families – all while organizing, raising their voices and fighting for a path to citizenship they deserve.

Simply put, Dreamers are working hard to shape our nation for the better. If that’s not what it means to be an American, then I don’t know what is.