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North Carolina 'Dreamers' hold hope for bipartisan immigration solution by year's end

Oscar Romero poses after his graduation from UNC Charlotte in 2017. The uncertainty created by DACA has weighed on him.
Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero poses after his graduation from UNC Charlotte in 2017. The uncertainty created by DACA has weighed on him.

For many undocumented people, the coming weeks feel like the last opportunity for Congress to act on immigration reform. Among them is Yahel Flores, the Carolinas director for the American Business Immigration Coalition. He first came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was 7 years old.

“With control of the House slated to change, it is critical that Congress acts before the end of the lame duck session,” Flores said during a press conference on Thursday.

A bipartisan immigration proposal, backed by North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, would provide a pathway to citizenship for around two million people, like Flores, who were brought to the United States as children. But with Congress nearing the end of session, the clock is ticking.

“It will change my life and my ten-year-old son's life if this legislation passes,” he said.

Flores is one of 611,000 U.S. residents, including 24,000 people in North Carolina, known as "Dreamers" who are temporarily protected from deportation by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program or DACA. He joined other DACA holders, like UNC Charlotte graduate Oscar Romero, to encourage a legislative pathway to citizenship by the end of the year.

“DACA has been a transformative program for both its recipients and the country, demonstrating why expanding opportunities for immigrants is great for all of the United States of America,” Romero said. “But it is not enough. Congress needs to take action, protect "Dreamers," and deliver bipartisan legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers" like me this year.”

DACA holders are one of the groups that would benefit from a bipartisan immigrant framework, proposed by Tillis and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Currently, DACA holders must reapply every two years to maintain their right to work and reside in the United States.

“That's six applications each at the cost of approximately $500. Not to mention the legal cost. This is not sustainable for thousands of people,” Romero said. “Businesses, schools, health centers and more are at the whim of DACA as well, not knowing if any recipients they currently employ will be eligible for employment tomorrow.”

The Tillis-Sinema framework, first reported by the Washington Post, would also add billions in funding for Border Patrol, overhaul the asylum system and extend Title 42 expulsions until processing centers are built to hold migrants.

Sen. Tillis’s office did not respond to our request for comment.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.