August 21, 2019
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Failure to protect the ‘Dreamers’ will hurt our economy

Danby Ink | BDN
Danby Ink | BDN

It isn’t often that the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine AFL-CIO stand together to support an issue. But both our organizations stand together in solidarity with the so-called Dreamers in Maine to ask Congress to act before the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program, otherwise known as DACA, ends in the spring.

We both have long supported the Dreamers, but our collaboration comes as a result of President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate DACA earlier this year, and the impact this would have on the future of Maine’s workforce.

To be clear, Dreamers are immigrants who came to this country at a young age. For most of them, this country is the only home they know. They are students pursuing an education at our colleges and universities, or are young professionals employed as teachers, engineers, architects and health care workers, among other occupations. For a state facing an enormous workforce shortage in the coming years, they offer yet another option to help Maine grow and diversify its workforce base.

[Congress must fix Trump’s terrible mistake on DACA]

Today, Maine is home to roughly 49,000 immigrants. These new Americans play outsize roles in everything from food service managers, to computer programmers, to entrepreneurs. For many business owners, these immigrant workers have been a vital reason why their businesses have thrived in recent years despite the rapidly aging native-born population.

By weakening the rights of some immigrant workers, the rights of all workers are undermined. Forcing some vulnerable workers into the shadows only makes it harder for all working people to fight for prosperity and a safe work environment.

In the last decade, Maine has struggled with major demographic challenges. In 2014, almost one in five Mainers was over age 65. Maine continues to struggle to attract large numbers of new residents or retain its young people.

From 2011 to 2014, Maine experienced more deaths than births, one of only two states in the country to do so. With working-age residents in short supply, many Maine employers have struggled to find the workers they need to expand and keep growing in the state. Recent actions from the Trump administration will reduce the number of refugees resettled in Maine, which coupled with eliminating DACA will put a further strain on workforce development moving forward.

[Economist: Without huge changes, Maine’s aging population could lead to financial ruin]

If a legislative solution is not passed, roughly 800,000 young people who know no other country as home will begin to lose their work permits and protections from deportation starting March 5. In addition to the staggering moral cost, removing the Dreamers’ protections and removing them from the workforce also hinders the ability for Maine’s industries and economy to grow. If DACA protections are lost, Maine would suffer heavy economic consequences, including the loss of $3.9 million a year in GDP over the next decade.

When Trump ended DACA on Sep. 5, he created a dire emergency for Dreamers across the country, and for the millions of Americans who live, work and study with them every single day. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have long recognized the overwhelmingly positive contributions Dreamers make to the United States. Congress must understand the urgency facing Dreamers and pass a legislative solution to allow them to live and work permanently in the only country most of them know as home and provide them with protection from deportation.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine AFL-CIO, along with a host of other Maine business groups, joined together in September to call for swift and immediate action to protect the Dreamers’ future and the future of Maine’s workforce. Today, we renew that call, recognizing with each passing day we get closer to a less robust economy and workforce. We ask our delegation and all Maine business and labor groups to join us in supporting congressional action before the end of the year.

Cynthia Phinney is the president of the Maine AFL-CIO. Dana Connors is the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

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