WASHINGTON - Several prominent Minnesota businesses are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to block a Trump administration plan to allow deportation of residents brought into the country illegally as children.
Best Buy, Target, Ecolab, Cargill, UnitedHealth Group and C.H. Robinson are among thousands of American companies signed on individually or through trade groups to a friend of the court brief filed earlier this month. The brief strongly criticizes the Trump plan on economic grounds. It urges preservation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program set up by the Obama administration in 2012. The program lets young people known as Dreamers stay in the country to pursue education and jobs.
This includes hundreds of thousands who have spent virtually their entire lives in the U.S. protected by a policy heretofore honored by Republicans and Democrats.
Best Buy and Target signed on individually to the Supreme Court brief filed in anticipation of a November hearing on DACA.
"We know that there are Best Buy employees, customers and teens we support through our Teen Tech Centers who are Dreamers," Best Buy spokesman Jeff Shelman told the Star Tribune. "We believe that finding a permanent solution to enable these young people to continue to live and work in the United States is the right thing to do."
In an e-mail, Target stressed a commitment to "diversity and inclusion."
"We welcome people of all backgrounds to engage with our brand as team members or guests," the company said. "By embracing equal opportunities for all, we can better understand and serve our guests, connect to the communities we serve and build a stronger team. Target is joining many other companies in asking Congress to pass legislation that provides a permanent solution for DACA recipients. We will also continue to offer resources and support to any of our Target team members who are seeking it."
The criteria for avoiding deportation under DACA is strict. Applicants who have graduated from high school or served in the military can be considered. They must not have been convicted of a serious crime; be fingerprinted; supply a home address, and submit to a background check in addition to paying roughly $500 in fees.
DACA opponents said the program rewards illegal behavior. Republicans have split over the issue, with some endorsing legislation that offers a permanent path to citizenship and others insisting that DACA's continued existence and Dreamers' fate must be tied to stricter border controls. The issue is contentious enough that the government shut down briefly in 2017 when some members of Congress demanded a solution included in a bill to keep the government funded.
The Trump administration has taken a number of steps to curb immigration and remove people in the country illegally. In announcing plans to end DACA, the Department of Homeland Security said it overstepped its regulatory bounds in running the program. The White House also maintains that the president has the power to administratively kill it. The justices will determine whether ending the program is an administrative function over which the court and Congress have no jurisdiction.
The friend of the court brief includes the names of 125 individual companies and 18 trade groups. Huge business organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, all of which have Minnesota members, pushed back hard against the White House plan to kill DACA.
The brief argues that Homeland Security has the power to run the program and that DACA "resembles deferred action programs adopted in the past." The brief says ending DACA "will inflict serious harm on U.S. companies, all workers, and the American economy as a whole."
University of Minnesota professor Art Rolnick, a former senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, thinks "a clear business case and a strong economic case" can be made for keeping DACA.
"Certainly it's the right thing to do (morally)," he said. But a shortage of skilled workers is hurting the U.S. economy and Dreamers are generally the kinds of achievers who can help. "Our economy is based on immigrants who come here and succeed in a capitalist competitive market," Rolnick said. "I would expect companies to step up."
The business brief says DACA has brought 825,000 people "out of the shadows" and into the economy.
Target and Best Buy are not the only companies employing Dreamers, according to the brief. The list extends to a large majority of the nation's top 25 companies. As entrepreneurs, the brief argues, Dreamers produced business income of $658.7 million in 2015, most of it from small, local companies. As consumers, the Dreamers collectively exercise annual spending power of $24.1 billion, the brief says.
One of the largest and most vocal advocates for DACA has been the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which is comprised of thousands of businesses. Minnesota-based Cargill, Ecolab, UnitedHealth Group and C.H. Robinson all command seats on the NAM board. Ecolab CEO Doug Baker sits on its executive committee.
"The DACA dispute is another example of our nation's broken immigration system," Baker told the Star Tribune. "Eliminating DACA would be a step in the wrong direction."
Cargill and UnitedHealth deferred to NAM when asked to comment on DACA.
Companies have long used trade groups to express their concerns on controversial issues. Safety in numbers may be more important now than ever, said Steve Billet, a former AT&T lobbyist teaching in George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. Billet said Donald Trump's unprecedented public attacks on those who cross him make corporations more hesitant to speak individually.
AT&T endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, Billet explained. After Trump's election, when the company tried to merge with Time Warner, the Justice Department opened an investigation and eventually filed an antitrust lawsuit to block the merger. The suit failed, but Billet said the message to businesses who buck the president came through loud and clear. "There is," he said, "quite a bit more fear.
And in the case of DACA, the risks are greater.
Protecting Dreamers is a "sound economic policy that acquires workers for the economy and makes an effort to address immigration problems," Billet said. "But immigration is Trump's issue."
Making the case for 'Dreamers'
An amicus brief filed by 125 U.S. businesses and 18 trade groups includes these estimates for economic impact of residents brought into the country illegally as children, sometimes referred to as Dreamers:
Total participating in the economy because of DACA: 825,000
Business income in 2015?: $658.7 million
Annual spending power?: $24.1 billion
Federal taxes paid per year?: $5.7 billion
State and local taxes paid per year: $3.1 billion
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