In the late 1800s and through the early 1900s, millions of Italians emigrated to the United States with a vision of a better life in the Land of the Free. Little did they know that they or their children would have a long way to go before they would be accepted in their new home.
Once they arrived, they faced discrimination and outright hatred. Many could not find work unless it was in a dangerous industry. They worked in coal mines and factories where thousands died from illness and accidents, and they were still accused of stealing jobs.
This discrimination became generational. Their descendants sometimes found it difficult to find work and, in some cases, were barred from owning certain properties.
History is repeating itself, and Italian-Americans like me know it all too well. Young undocumented immigrants, often from dangerous countries in South America, are under threat of deportation. They are known as the Dreamers. They were brought to this country when they were small children who did not have a say in which borders they crossed or how they were brought here. For most, the U.S. is the only home they have every known. And like the Italian immigrants, they want to be productive, law-abiding citizens.
The DREAM Act of 2021 will allow them to do just that. This bill would protect the Dreamers from deportation while they travel the pathway to citizenship. It would allow them to work and go to school without the uncertainty of not knowing whether they will be removed from their home and sent back to a country and a culture they do not know.
The DREAM Act of 2021 is a rarity.
The measure was introduced by two senators from vastly different parts of the nation — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. Although these senators are from different regions of the nation with different priorities, they understand the value the Dreamers bring to America.
It is backed by business interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Manufacturers Association. These two large trade associations support this legislation because they know the Dreamers are good for business. They work in essential jobs that have helped keep the economy up and running through the worst of the pandemic despite having less access to health care.
The Dreamers contribute to the workforce and the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. The nation stands to lose over $351 Billion in GDP if the Dreamers are deported and the U.S. could see a $93 billion decrease in tax revenue over the next 10 years. These are decreases our nation cannot afford to sustain in the best of times, let alone when we are recovering from the economic damage caused by COVID-19.
This issue goes beyond just money. It is about humanity and our moral obligation to do better by these individuals than we did for the past waves of immigrants, immigrants like the families of Senator Manchin and Senator Capito and even my own.
I agree with Senator Joe Manchin when, in his 2005 gubernatorial inaugural address, he proclaimed that “every child should have a caring adult in their lives, every child should have a safe place and every child should have a healthy start.” Those words still ring true 16 years later.
And I still agree today that these children and young adults deserve a chance to become citizens of this great nation, that has prospered because of its diversity, not in spite of it. These Dreamers deserve a safe place and a healthy start. I hope our two Senators agree and support this measure.
Former Fairmont mayor Nick Fantasia is executive director of the Marion Regional Development Corp. and owner of Fantasia Rentals.