PHOENIX — Three former heads of the Department of Homeland Security told Congress in an open letter Wednesday that immigration legislation to protect "dreamers" is urgently needed to avoid triggering large-scale deportation problems and disruptions to the economy.
The letter — signed by Michael Chertoff, who headed the agency under President George W. Bush, and Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who headed it under President Obama — says the issue involving the legal status of nearly 700,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children needs to be resolved sooner than its official March 5 expiration date.
"The realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection is only weeks away, in the middle of January," the former secretaries wrote.
The letter comes as Congress tries to assess what to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections conferred by executive order by Obama and ended by President Trump, who called for a legislative fix instead.
The issue is part of the broader immigration debate that has roiled Washington for a generation. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is part of a Senate group trying again to broker a deal on the dreamers.
The former secretaries note that people are already falling into an uncertain legal status and that it will escalate to 1,200 per day in March. That creates a problem for businesses as well, they said.
"Over 90 percent of DACA recipients are currently employed,” the letter says. “Every week of delay means thousands of new DACA recipients losing work authorization, negatively impacting the business community by creating uncertainty for all business employing DACA recipients.
"DACA recipients work in every sector of the U.S. economy. Congressional delay past the next few weeks will force the employers of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients into a state of instability, in which they have to plan for losing these critical employees.”