South Dakota business groups call for immigration reforms

May 19, 2021 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s most influential business groups on Wednesday called for Congress to take up immigration reform to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The group, which included the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Retailers Association and Dairy Producers, cast an economic argument on immigration, arguing that the thousands of job openings in the state showed the need for legal ways to immigrate. The group’s call comes as President Joe Biden presses Congress to pass legislation codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that then-President Barack Obama instituted by executive action in 2012 to provide limited protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

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Don Haggar, the state executive director for the free-market organization, Americans for Prosperity, said immigration reform has gotten caught up in a “partisan ping-pong” battle, but there’s currently an opportunity to find bipartisan support for a long-term solution for immigrants often described as “dreamers.”

“Dreamers are among the best and brightest in our country,” Haggar said. “These folks are contributors.”

Biden has made clear that passing legislation enshrining DACA — which has wide, bipartisan support from the American public — should be the floor for action on immigration. However, his call for wider immigration reform to establish a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants faces tough odds in a closely divided Congress.

The U.S. House recently passed a bill that would provide ways to obtain permanent legal status for DACA recipients, as well as other immigrants in the country under temporary programs protecting them from deportation. But South Dakota’s lone congressman, Rep. Dusty Johnson voted against it.

“Legal immigration is an incredibly important part of the American story, but reforming the immigration system will be difficult until we end the crisis at the southern border,” the Republican congressman said in a statement. “We need to address that crisis and also get the ten million unemployed Americans back to work.”

The state’s two Republican U.S. Senators, John Thune and Mike Rounds, have previously expressed support for immigration reform for DACA recipients but tied it to beefing up border security.

For people like Karen Benitez-Lopez, a DACA recipient who spoke at the virtual event with the business leaders, any delays to immigration reform mean their lives remain in limbo. Every two years, Benitez-Lopez has to reapply to receive DACA status, meaning she remains unsure whether she will be forced to return to a country she left when she was two years old.

“We came here with the hopes that we had a pathway to citizenship,” she said. “The immigration system is behind.”