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Two New Columns: Help Rebuild Houston By Protecting Dreamers and Immigrants

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Two new op-eds highlight the essential role that Dreamers and other immigrants will play in rebuilding Houston after Hurricane Harvey, and call on Congress and the Trump Administration to protect Dreamers. As Florida prepares for Hurricane Irma’s landfall, there’s an important lesson to be taken from Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey: immigrants are a part of our country.  They are impacted by hurricanes and need access to safe spaces, and they play a critical role in rebuilding and recovery. TheHouston Chronicle op-ed by Texas construction company CEO Stan Marek and the New York Times op-ed by Houston-based author Lacy Johnson are excerpted below:

Houston Chronicle op-ed by Stan Marek, “Texas Shuns Immigrants the Moment They’re Needed Most”:

As the flood waters left behind by Hurricane Harvey begin to recede around our great city, the questions of how to rebuild and who will do the work are top of mind. Following the passage of a ban on “sanctuary cities” in Texas, we were already faced with a quickly depleting workforce. Many construction workers, both documented and undocumented, have begun fleeing our state because they’re concerned local police will start rounding up immigrants … So how will we rebuild our city?

…the fastest and most permanent fix is to find a way to grant the roughly 600,000 undocumented people the Houston area some type of legal status. Many business leaders in Houston and around Texas have been advocating for a common-sense plan called “ID and Tax.” Simply put, the government would offer legal status to anyone who’s resided in the United States for a certain number of years, consents to a background check and receives a tamper-proof photo ID. Once it’s been shown they have committed no felonies, they would be required to work for a sponsoring employer who pays and matches payroll taxes and provides accident insurance. This is similar to the arrangement for anyone who utilizes a work visa.

All of this would move us in the right direction. I’m afraid it will not work, though, unless Republicans and Democrats in Congress along with the Trump Administration find the courage to make the Dream Act a permanent solution for the 800,000 who have signed up for protection. These “Dreamers” took the risk of giving all their personal histories to a government that is now considering deporting them. There is no way the undocumented in our city are going to trust the government until something like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, becomes law. President Donald Trump’s announcement this week that DACA will end in six months is unfortunate. But hopefully it will put pressure on Congress to do the right thing and fix the law.

Read the New York Times op-ed by Lacy Johnson, “It’s the DACA Decision, Not Hurricane Harvey, That May Tear Houston Apart (excerpted below):

As the floodwaters rose in my west Houston neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey landed, my husband and many of our neighbors pulled boats through waist-high water, knocked on doors and plucked people from their submerged houses. They rescued elderly couples, young roommates, families who do not speak English. There was no checking of IDs, no debate on whether a life was worth saving.

All across the city, as catastrophic flooding threatened to drown us, regular people risked their lives to help others. Alonso Guillen, a radio host and D.J. who lived in Lufkin, Tex., two hours from Houston, brought a boat and a group of friends here to join in those efforts. He was on that boat, saving people he had never met before, when it capsized last Wednesday and he drowned. Alonso Guillen died a hero, if not an American citizen. He was a Dreamer, a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and like the nearly 141,000 other Dreamers in Texas, he followed the requirements of the program — to stay in school or be gainfully employed — and had never been convicted of a crime. More than that, Texas was his home.

Around the time Alonso Guillen was buried in Lufkin, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump’s decision to cancel the DACA program, saying that “enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering.” Instead, what the announcement shows is how suffering can needlessly be inflicted.

The end of DACA means that hundreds of thousands of people nationwide will lose their eligibility to work. As many as 80,000 Dreamers in the greater Houston area alone could be deported to countries where they have no relationships, where they do not even speak the language. It is the disaster of this decision — more than the hurricane — that threatens to tear our city apart.

…The conversation about what comes next, how to rebuild and how to engineer a more equitable city, is a long one and is now only beginning. Tomorrow, some of us will choose to prepare meals, to join a work crew, to deliver donations on a flatbed truck. We’re planning to fight like hell for every single one of our Dreamers — to keep them where they are already home.