Senate Should Embrace America’s Dreamers
I didn’t grow up with much. Like a lot of kids, life was tough for my brother, sister and me. By the age of 13 my mother was on her third husband and that relationship wasn’t going any better than the previous two. Home life was not good, and at the age of 15 I left home. I worked 40 hours a week at two separate jobs running gas stations while in high school. Though my grades were not the best they could have been, I graduated high school in 1983. After I left home I was fortunate that I found a family willing to take me in and care for me. They were a modest family with strong values and four kids of their own. I’m sure adding another child to their family was a major emotional and financial commitment. I am thankful for them every day for making that commitment to me. Their care and guidance helped me grow into a young adult and successful businessman. I’m sure we can all look back at a time when the help of others made the difference in our lives. As I look back on that time, I realize I grew up with more than I thought I had. I may not have had “stuff,” but I had the care of a family, the freedom America provides and an environment of opportunity that allowed me to dream big dreams and accomplish great things. I would grow up and go on to build several successful businesses. I have a family of my own, a home, my health and a positive outlook for the future. There’s an old saying we all have heard I’m sure, “from those with much, much is expected.” Whether as an individual like myself or a country like America, those of us with the ability and resources to help improve the lives of others in need have a social responsibility to reach out and lift others up. Regardless of how they got into the situation they are in, we can facilitate a better life for them and their families. Yes, much is expected. Personally, and through my companies, I have made a commitment that part of our business strategy is a community strategy. We dedicate our time and resources to help those less fortunate than us. We give back financially and socially to the communities in which we do business. Whether it’s hunger prevention, homeless kids, local teen centers or education programs, we contribute all we can. I get to live the American dream. I’m aware of how fortunate I am. I’m grateful to have been born in America where hard work, dedication, faith and commitment to country allowed me the opportunity to have a better life. It’s this freedom, opportunity and ability to dream of a better life that motivates immigrants from other countries to come to America. After all, somewhere in our own family history every one of us is an immigrant. It’s also the idea that spurs migrant parents to risk their lives and the lives of their children to cross deserts or the ocean to make it to America. As Americans committed to the notion that hard work, freedom, opportunity and commitment to country matter, we should embrace the immigrants and their children. Yes, “from those with much, much is expected.” Much is expected of America to create an environment and embrace those less fortunate than us. After all that’s what America has been doing for all of us since its founding over 200 years ago. These parents and children come to America for its freedom and opportunity, but also to flee the ravages of war, hunger, dictators and drug violence. They are looking for a better life and a country to which they can commit themselves. They are people who will build families, companies, invent technologies and when asked, defend our country. We need to embrace and welcome them, not turn them away. Currently a group of state attorneys general (AGs) want to do just that — turn them away and send them back to a violent and uncertain future. This group of attorney generals has demanded that President Trump end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which currently supports over 800,000 young people nationwide by temporarily allowing them to work and go to school here in America. Should the president agree to this, these kids and their parents would be at immediate risk of deportation. Should the DACA program end, this would drive hundreds of thousands of people into living a secret life where they attempt to hide from authorities, can’t find work, get drivers licenses, pay taxes, sign their kids up for school and contribute to their communities. It will tear their families apart and create an unmanageable situation for law enforcement. None of this is necessary. These families contribute much to our communities. In Maine, it’s estimated that 110 DACA recipients pay more than $256,000 in state and local taxes. They own businesses and contribute to their communities, schools and churches. In a speech given here in Maine, former United States Sen. George Mitchell asked the group he was speaking to, to consider these facts about America’s immigrants: “Last year seven Americans received Nobel Prizes: six of them were immigrants. Among the most successful business enterprises in the world are Apple, Amazon and Google. Apple was founded by Steve Jobs, whose father was born in Syria. Amazon was created by Jeff Bezos, whose adoptive father was born in Cuba. Google was co-founded by Sergey Brin, who was born in Russia. Would we have been a better country if they had not been admitted?” Of course not. Chances are none of these companies could have been created without the freedoms and opportunity America provides for its citizens. The DREAM ACT establishes a strict process for the kids to follow if they want to stay here in America and eventually become citizens. They must commit to finding a job, going to school or serving in our military. They undergo a rigorous background check and have to prove they can speak English and understand American history. They are our friends, employees, students and even members of our families. Yes, much is expected of America. That is why I urge Sen. Susan Collins to support the DREAM ACT and if necessary co-sponsor this legislation. Sen. Collins was elected to office to represent the best in all of us and I can’t think of an issue that better defines our American spirit than standing up for and supporting these children. Earlier this year the President stated he would keep the DACA in place. I hope we can hold him to his word. The vast majority of Americans have supported that decision. I urge Congress to keep DACA in place and support and pass the DREAM ACT. James Howard is the president and CEO of Priority Real Estate Group LLC of Topsham.