By Sarah Davasher-Wisdom and Lisa Bajorinas, Greater Louisville Inc.

A central pillar of Greater Louisville Inc.’s strategy for growing our regional economy is building a globally competitive workforce in the Louisville region. This means doing everything we can to attract and retain the most well-trained and work-ready people from around the world to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, chief operating officer of GLI

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known as DACA, has proved crucial to this strategy — which is why the Greater Louisville business community is calling on Congress to make sure that the individuals protected by DACA are allowed to continue contributing to our regional workforce and living in our communities without fear of detainment or deportation.

DACA-eligible individuals, or Dreamers, are young people who were brought to our country as children. They are motivated, educated, and hard-working — exactly what we need to build a globally competitive workforce.

A brief history

DACA was enacted in 2012 by the Obama administration via an executive order as a way of addressing the problem of young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors. The idea was to establish a pathway for these young people to come out of the shadows and have the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to their communities.

To accomplish this, DACA grants to qualified undocumented individuals who came to the country as minors a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. The program requires recipients to be younger than 31 (as of June 2012) and to be in school, already have a degree, or be a veteran. It also prohibits individuals with criminal histories from receiving DACA protections.

Lisa Bajorinas, vice president of entrepreneurship of GLI

Since 2012, approximately 800,000 individuals have received DACA status out of an estimated 1.9 million individuals eligible for the program. In Kentucky, more than 3,000 individuals have received protections under DACA. Many of them live right here in Greater Louisville. Throughout the state, the DACA-eligible population is upwards of 9,000.

The program’s future, however, has recently become uncertain. In September, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind the Obama administration’s 2012 executive order and called on Congress to pass legislation creating a permanent solution for Dreamers.

Without action from Congress, almost 1,000 DACA recipients will lose protected status every day starting on March 6, 2018, stripping them of work permits and exposing them to the possibility of detainment and deportation. That will continue for a period of two years until the final DACA recipient loses their protections.

Stop for a moment and consider the impact of congressional inaction on Kentucky and Greater Louisville.

Demographics of Dreamers

Studies have shown that 87 percent of Dreamers are employed. Six percent have started their own businesses. Of those who aren’t working, 62 percent are in school, and 33 percent of those in school are also working.

Juxtapose that demographic profile against these two numbers:

  • 27,000: the number of job openings in Greater Louisville in just about any given month.
  • 57.6 percent: Kentucky’s workforce participation rate, which is five points below the national average and the fourth lowest in the country.

Employers in Kentucky and Greater Louisville cannot afford any sort of workforce reduction — especially one that could see the loss of thousands of motivated, young workers.

Congressional inaction also jeopardizes state revenues and economic growth. Kentucky’s DACA-eligible population pays more than $10 million in total taxes every year, $6.1 million of which goes to state and local coffers.

It’s no secret that the upcoming budget session in Frankfort is going to be one of the most difficult in state history. Losing or reducing tax revenues contributed by Dreamers will only make it harder.

Similarly, Kentucky stands to miss out on major economic growth. The Commonwealth could see more than $300 million in annual GDP gains over the next 10 years as a direct result of DACA. That’s the kind of productivity we need to keep Kentucky and Greater Louisville moving in the right direction.

Making sure that Dreamers are able to continue living and working in our communities without fear of detainment or deportation is pro-growth, pro-business public policy that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should support.

GLI calls on Greater Louisville’s congressional delegation to make this issue a priority, and we encourage business and civic leaders throughout the region to join us in speaking out in support of finding a permanent, legislative solution to DACA.

Let’s work together to build a globally competitive workforce that reinforces Greater Louisville’s reputation as one of the best places in the world to live, work, and do business.

Sarah Davasher-Wisdom is chief operating officer and Lisa Bajorinas is vice president of entrepreneurship and talent at GLI.

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