DACA entrepreneurs must have a path to citizenship

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A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States has been debated for decades. The urgency has never been clearer than now. Unfortunately, however, with the midterm elections approaching, any meaningful discussion of immigration reform will likely fall on the “talk later” list. But lives and the economy can no longer wait ‘later’. Entrepreneurs who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, in particular, are one class of people who can help boost the US economy. Here is an example of one of my clients being able to do just that.

Andrew came to the United States as a child in the early 2000s and started his own trucking company around 2005. In 2012, he successfully achieved DACA status.

It operates in a relatively rural agricultural area and transports products across the country. It also helps local farmers distribute their crops and produce to major retailers. Andrew’s business employs about 20 full-time people and several contractors. At present, the company is valued at nearly $2 million.

He is highly respected within the business community. His clients include companies with instantly recognizable names. He is a competent and accomplished entrepreneur.

Andrew is also involved in community and volunteer work. A practicing man of faith, he lives with his wife and three minor children. He embodies all the recognizable marks of a good citizen.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the type of work Andrew did was something we largely took for granted. Products appeared on grocery store shelves at the times and in the quantities we needed, and little thought was given to the process that made this possible.

But the pandemic has revealed the importance of every link in the supply chain. From cars and auto parts to infant formula and computer products, the supply of consumer products across the board is suffering.

Although there are many national and international reasons for shortages of everything, the trucking industry remains a key and vital part of the system. And he faces an uphill battle.

In November 2021, The New York Times reported that the United States was 80,000 truckers short, a number that is expected to double by 2030. Think of our supply chain problem doubling, and you’ll begin to see why people like Andrew are so important to the solution.

Like most DACA recipients, Andrew wanted to find a way to make his status more secure and permanent, and I explored all the visa options and waivers that might be available for someone in his position.

Working with many startups, I take pride in finding the best visa option for my clients, especially for entrepreneurs. I often wake up in the middle of the night with a moment of bright light trying to figure out how to solve a complex visa puzzle.

But in the end, the law is what it is, and I often have my hands tied, preventing me from being able to help the people I so want to see succeed. Without immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, there is no legal trick or magic wand that can help people like Andrew become a lawful permanent resident or US citizen.

A report from the New American Economy shows that there are more than 1.2 million DACA-eligible residents in the United States. They had a total family income of nearly $24 billion.

In 2015, a total of 37,813 of them – people like Andrew – owned their own businesses, with a combined income of $658.7 million. There is no doubt that this number has increased considerably in the seven years since the publication of the report.

John Feinblatt, president of New American Economy, said, “Dreamers are job creators. They’re building businesses and starting their own at a high rate – further proof that keeping the Dreamers here and working hard makes good economic sense for America.

It certainly is.

At a time when our immigration system is completely broken and the economy continues to struggle, we need to look to the legal and policy infrastructure to get us back on track. Immigration reform in general and a pathway to citizenship in particular are needed so that entrepreneurs like Andrew can stay in this country, continue to grow their businesses, create jobs and prosper – for the benefit of our economy.

Tahmina Watson is the founding lawyer of Watson Immigration Act in Seattle, where she practices US immigration law with a focus on business immigration. She has been blogging on immigration law since 2008 and has written numerous articles for numerous publications. She is the author of Legal heroes in the Trump era: be inspired. Grow your impact. change the world and The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth and Economic Prosperity in America. She is also the founder of the Washington Immigrant Defense Network (TO BROADEN), which funds and facilitates legal representation in the immigration courtroom, and co-founder of Airport Lawyers, which provided essential services during the early travel bans. Tahmina is regularly quoted in the media and is the host of the podcast Tahmina talks about immigration. She is a Puget Sound Business Journal 2020 Women of Influence winner. Business Intern recently named her one of the top immigration attorneys in the United States helping tech startups. You can reach her by email at tahmina@watsonimmigrationlaw.com, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @tahminawatson.

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