Madison Nguyen is the executive vice president at The Silicon Valley Organization and is a former vice mayor of San Jose.
A bipartisan compromise on immigration policy is vital to the economic success of both Silicon Valley as well as the nation at large. The budget compromise on border security up for a vote by this Friday must support immigrants and refugees as other programs have in the past.
As a former refugee and immigrant, I know first-hand the value of supportive immigration policies, programs and services. In the early 1980s, my family and I resettled in Scottsdale, Ariz. We had lived in various refugee camps in the Philippines for nearly three years before being sponsored by a church program.
The United States Refugee Act of 1980 was primarily responsible for enabling the program that brought me here. The act increased the limit on refugees admitted per fiscal year from 17,400 to 50,000 and also widened the scope for the definition of a refugee.
After Arizona, my family later relocated to Modesto where I worked as a farmworker alongside my parents and older siblings every summer while studying in American public schools. I went on to earn an undergraduate degree in history from UC Santa Cruz and a graduate degree in social science from the University of Chicago. In 2002, I was elected to the Franklin-McKinley Board of Education when I became the first Vietnamese American woman elected to public office in California.
Several years later, I was elected to the San Jose City Council and also served as vice mayor for four years. My ability to learn English and pursue an education was made possible in large part to Title IV of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which created the Office of Refugee Resettlement that ultimately produced grants that sponsored programs such as employment training and placement for refugees, English learning, and financial assistance.
Today, a similar immigration-related workforce and education program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), is under scrutiny.
Nearly 750,000 Dreamers, more than 80 percent of which are under the age of 30, are at risk of losing critical deportation protections and work authorization from DACA. If DACA is cut, then Silicon Valley pays the price as we have a huge immigrant and undocumented population that continues to contribute to innovation as well as our broader community. According to New American Economy, the San Jose Metro Area has 773,844 immigrant residents, roughly 39.1 percent of the population, which has paid $13.5 billion in taxes. A study by the UCLA Labor Center, 8 percent of Silicon Valley’s 2.5 million residents are undocumented and 14 percent of the half a million young people aged 18 to 32 are undocumented. The study also shows that when an undocumented youth is able to attain higher education, he or she is 6 percent more likely to have an advanced degree than U.S.-born Silicon Valley residents.
Through DACA, dreamers can obtain driver’s licenses, access basic health services, open bank accounts, take out mortgages and car loans, and also pay taxes to fund critical infrastructure improvements in our local neighborhoods. DACA is great for employment, business and our economy.
Supporting refugees and DACA should both be key components in any comprehensive immigration reform. Silicon Valley needs to stand in support of these communities to ensure that innovation continues to thrive, businesses continue to succeed, and opportunity is afforded to every child so that one day they can achieve the American Dream like I did.