Sixty percent of our state’s largest companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
It wasn’t until after college that my dad told me his secret over breakfast at Denny’s. I knew he was an immigrant, graduated from public high school, served in the U.S. Army and was a community leader on the Eastside. But the rest of his story was that of a 13-year-old in a German refugee camp at the end of World War II, who was given a fake birth certificate and false name by a Lutheran minister so he would not be returned to his homeland, the Soviet Union, most certainly to the forced labor camps.
My dad kept his story a secret because he feared deportation. This fear is shared today by 790,000 Dreamers — that is, children unlawfully brought to this country before age 16.
The organization Mainstream Republicans of Washington, which I chair, recently called for urgent action on legislation that would let these Dreamers call “home” the only country many have known. We must protect Dreamers from deportation, preserve our state’s investment in their future and build on our state’s legacy of being a welcoming place for immigrants.
More than 17,000 Dreamers live in Washington state. And yet because, like my dad, they are afraid to tell their stories, most of us don’t know much about them.
We do know that today’s Dreamers want to pursue the American oromise of a better life through education and hard work. In 2014, the Legislature recognized Dreamers’ potential by allowing access to financial aid in our state’s public universities.
Giving Dreamers a place to call home will ensure our investment in their future benefits our state. Just like the immigrants that came before them, Dreamers will help grow our economy and create jobs. Sixty percent of our state’s largest companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
Finally, support for the Dreamers will ensure a legacy of welcoming immigrants is not sidetracked by those who espouse what U.S. Sen. John McCain calls “half-baked, spurious nationalism.”
Our state’s leaders have time and again overcome such arguments, whether it was Gov. Dan Evans’ embrace of Southeast Asian refugees at the end of the Vietnam War, or U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton’s federal legislation allowing Chinese students to stay after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
A recent Fox News poll shows 63 percent of Trump voters favor granting Dreamers citizenship. That poll also offers hope that we are coming together on broader immigration policy. When Donald Trump announced his presidential bid, 30 percent of Americans favored deporting undocumented immigrants. Now it’s down to 14 percent. A record-high 83 percent of voters favor setting up a system for undocumented immigrants to become legal residents.
Despite our welcoming history and favorable polling, getting a deal to protect Dreamers will not be easy. The first bipartisan DREAM Act was introduced 17 years ago. But time is now running out with the executive order protecting Dreamers expiring early next year.
We must be vigorous and vocal in supporting the efforts of our congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, recently presided over a news conference with Republican members from across the country urging Congress to provide permanent legal status to Dreamers.
In his 1989 farewell speech, President Ronald Reagan described thoughtful patriotism through the image of a “city upon a hill,” “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace … and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
It is patriotic for Americans to welcome immigrants like the Dreamers. As I learned from my dad, a Dreamer of his generation, they will return the welcome with intense pride in America and hard work to energize this “city upon a hill” so that it shines brightly as a beacon for all mankind.