More than 800 executives from the nation’s largest corporations—including Univision, which owns Splinter—are patting themselves on the back for urging elected officials to support the young, undocumented immigrants who are losing protections from deportation and the right to legally work in the U.S. The CEOs from corporations like Target, Walmart, Apple, and Amazon have called for extending the benefits of DACA, the President Obama-era program the Trump administration rescinded earlier this year.
“We issue an urgent plea for our leaders in Washington to protect the Dreamers so their futures can never be put at risk in this way again,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in a company-wide email. DACA recipients “deserve our respect as equals and a solution rooted in American values.”
These statements are nice things to say, and that’s about it. They’re nothing more than symbolic declarations. Virtually none of these companies are promising to stick their necks out in a meaningful way for their undocumented workers.
DACA transformed the lives of nearly 800,000 young undocumented people who came to the United States as children by allowing them to live, work, and study without fear of deportation. But each week, an estimated 851 DACA recipients are losing their benefits as their permits expire, according to a study from the Center for American Progress.
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DACA was announced after years of young people risking deportation by practicing non-violent civil disobedience. These vulnerable activists sat in senators’ offices until they were arrested. They interrupted President Obama’s speeches. They blocked streets. And now companies like Target, Walmart, Apple, Amazon, and Univision employ them.
It’s time for these companies to return the favor, and swap their lip service with action.
So far only one company, Airbnb, has publicly pledged to defy federal laws and keep DACA recipients employed once their work permits expire. Airbnb confirmed the policy, first reported by The Guardian, but a spokesperson declined to say how many DACA recipients the company employed.
“If many corporations big and small stand up and do this, that’s how social change is created,” said Bill Ong Hing, an immigration law professor at the University of San Francisco.
One of the solutions being proposed is the long-delayed passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who entered the country before the age of 18. Washington insiders say the DREAM Act has the strongest opportunity to pass in December as part of the spending bill that must pass by December 8. But until that law becomes reality, corporations have a responsibility to make a real statement.
“Defying laws that people think are immoral in some way has a long tradition in America,” said William A. Stock, an immigration lawyer and former president of American Immigration Lawyers Association.
It’s not as if companies haven’t engaged in civil disobedience before. Hobby Lobby defied federal law on contraception insurance coverage; if conservative CEOs can do this, why not supposedly progressive corporations? And in December 2015, Apple defied federal court orders that demanded the company “build a backdoor to the iPhone” that belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook, who, along with his wife, carried out the mass shooting in San Bernardino.
Yet when it comes to DACA recipients, Apple has offered basically nothing. The company employs more than 250 DACA recipients, from engineers to employees in retail stores in more than 28 states. All they get is an email full of platitudes from their CEO.
Some would argue these corporations have made these statements purely out of self-interest: They want to keep young low wage workers in retail stores. But even if that’s true, corporations make powerful allies, and they should do everything in their power to make concrete changes.
Of course, civil disobedience has major risks. Companies can be fined for knowingly hiring undocumented workers, and if law enforcement discovers a pattern of this, there can be criminal charges. Some workers with expired permits could become targets after a company publicly announces they’re defying federal law. But despite all these consequences, many immigrant rights advocates support the move.
As long as everyone is part of the strategy and understands the risks, corporations taking on the federal government “is actually one of the most effective ways in which allies can stand up with undocumented immigrants,” said Tania Unzueta, policy director for the immigrant’s rights group Mijente. In 2010, Unzueta participated in a sit-in at Arizona Senator John McCain’s office to urge him to support the DREAM Act. The New York Times referred to the act of civil disobedience as “the first time students have directly risked deportation” to pass legislation that would benefit immigrant youth.
If young, undocumented immigrants can put their livelihoods on the line and practice civil disobedience, then corporations who have reaped the benefits of their bravery—and who have far more power, money and legal resources than DACA recipients—can do it, too.