Guest Column
Five Florida university presidents support a pathway to citizenship for Florida’s Dreamers | Column
Among our best students are thousands of Florida college students with incredible potential whose bright futures stand to be eclipsed if Congress fails to create a pathway to citizenship.
DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 18, 2020.
DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 18, 2020. [ DREW ANGERER | Getty Images North America ]
Published Sept. 7, 2021

As presidents of five Florida universities, our greatest joy is seeing our students pursue and achieve their dreams and aspirations, and we are immensely proud of the impact our students have on the great state of Florida. They are building the economy of tomorrow and helping to strengthen Florida’s long-term prosperity.

But among our best are thousands of Florida college students with incredible potential whose bright futures stand to be eclipsed if Congress continues to punt on creating a pathway to citizenship for them.

Since 2012, many Dreamers — young people who came to the U.S. as children without documentation — have earned temporary deportation protections and the ability to study and legally work through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But DACA is a temporary policy meant to delay the chilling prospect of deporting 650,000 people from the only homes they have ever known until Congress legislates a pathway to citizenship, which — in over three presidential administrations — it has failed to do.

With more than 12,000 DACA-eligible students in Florida, every day on our campuses we see firsthand the hopes, aspirations and hard work of many of Florida’s nearly 70,000 Dreamers. Granting them a pathway to citizenship is no act of charity; it’s enlightened self-interest.

Consider this: Nationwide, roughly 200,000 DACA recipients — more than one-third of the entire DACA population — were on the frontlines of the pandemic as essential workers. Beyond their skills and talents, their removal would cost our state $1.4 billion in tax revenue and more than $77 million in GDP contributions. As leaders of educational institutions supported by tax dollars, we know too well how painful this loss would be for our state. Aside from it being the morally right thing to do, a pathway to citizenship for these young people means unlocking and unleashing their incredible economic potential.

Unfortunately Texas Circuit Court Judge Andrew Hanen recently ruled DACA unlawful and closed its protections completely to new applicants, placing thousands of our best Floridians in limbo, unable to plan for their bright futures.

A permanent solution is possible. Earlier this year, the House, with bipartisan support, passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would give Dreamers and others with temporary legal status the opportunity to earn citizenship. In the Senate, the bipartisan Dream Act introduced in February by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would provide DACA recipients the ability to earn a pathway to citizenship, but it has not received a vote in the Senate.

Our senators now have the opportunity to support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers in the upcoming budget reconciliation process. We urge Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to support these bipartisan and common sense immigration solutions.

In doing so, they can help expand our workforce, bring much needed certainty to families and employers, and equip our economy with the tools necessary to roar back from the pandemic.

This shouldn’t be a difficult decision, with more than two-thirds of American voters supporting a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

We go to work each day to foster the hopes and dreams of our students who are eager to make a difference and build better lives for themselves, their families, and our communities, doing what the IMPAC Fund, the American Business Immigration Council and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration last month called Fulfilling Florida’s Promise.

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All of our students have dreams and aspirations that will enrich our state and country, and we all lose if those dreams go unfulfilled.

David A. Armstrong is president of St. Thomas University. Grant H. Cornwell is president of Rollins College. George L. Hanbury II is president and CEO of Nova Southeastern University. Mike Allen is president of Barry University. Jeffrey D. Senese is president of Saint Leo University.