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OpinionCommentary

Mr. President, here’s a way forward on immigration

You should extend Temporary Protected Status, forget about building a wall, and help the nation heal.

President Donald Trump arrives in the Roosevelt Room

President Donald Trump arrives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, for a Veterans Affairs Department "telehealth" event. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Photo Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

Dear Mr. President,

Like the hammer that sees every problem as a nail, you surprise no one when you tar all immigrants with misplaced anger and destructive rhetoric. But your decision to prioritize political dog whistles — such as the immigration legislation you endorsed Wednesday — over economic vitality astounds.

One would expect that a person with such renowned business acumen would be able to calculate the impact of your approach to U.S. immigration policy.

For instance, deporting immigrants as collateral damage, as your Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials admitted to just days ago, is a staggering acknowledgment that your administration has targeted immigrants without criminal records.

And cutting out a vital portion of the workforce by slicing immigration in half, as you called for last week, would be catastrophic to the U.S. economy. And few regions would suffer as deeply as Long Island, an area for which you claim to feel such great loyalty.

And had you, Mr. President, not condemned all immigrants for the acts of a few, as you did in your recent speech in Brentwood, you would have highlighted the economic contributions of the more than 10,000 community-minded Long Islanders who have Temporary Protected Status, which is granted to eligible nationals from designated countries. On Long Island, the majority of immigrants granted TPS designation are from Honduras and El Salvador, with smaller numbers from Haiti and Nicaragua.

Mr. President, these immigrants are not violent MS-13 gang members and are in the country legally. They are not only our neighbors and fellow taxpayers, but they are also the backbone of Long Island’s economy.

To qualify for TPS, immigrants undergo rigorous background checks and face deportation if they commit a felony or multiple misdemeanors. The overwhelming majority of TPS holders, who are allowed to live and work in the United States and are not eligible for public assistance, have made the most of the opportunity to create better lives for themselves and their families. And, in doing so, they contribute mightily to Long Island’s economy.

These are the men and women tackling the tough jobs so few of us want to do, like cleaning homes and mowing lawns, grateful for the opportunity to follow a trail blazed by previous generations of immigrants who have shaped the region’s economy. Over the next decade, TPS holders will contribute an estimated $2.2 billion to Long Island’s economy, according to data from Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

TPS is expected to expire as early as January for some of these immigrants. But you, Mr. President, can extend the status without legislation. Your predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike, have done so for more than 25 years. Such extensions underscore the recognition of the contributions these immigrants make to our communities and local economies.

If TPS is not renewed, thousands of homes could be foreclosed, hundreds of businesses could be shuttered, and nearly 14,000 U.S.-born children, previously supported by parents with TPS, could be thrown into public assistance if their parents are deported. Turnover costs, as immigrants are removed from the workforce, would cost Long Island businesses $40 million, according to figures from Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

And, in the end, nothing will be gained in the way of security, which you tout as the justification for your anti-immigrant agenda.

Mr. President, extend TPS, forget about building a wall, and help the nation heal.

Elise S. Damas is an immigration attorney at the Central American Refugee Center, a nonprofit immigration rights organization, and director of the Pathway to Citizenship Long Island program.

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