The incredible natural calamities occurring around the world have understandably taken away public attention from important policy decisions, such as the Trump Administration’s move to end federal policy protecting the children of undocumented immigrants.
The Trump Administration overturned a federal policy called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA, which was established during the Obama Administration. The rationale then was that undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children should be dealt with differently. Adults who illegally immigrated to the United States did so knowing that they could face challenges by government authorities.
Their children, on the other hand, had no say in the decision. Thus, the Obama Administration argued, those children should be protected from deportation and allowed to stay temporarily in the country to work or study. The Obama Administration made its decision through executive action without Congress.
In order to qualify for DACA, an individual may request DACA protections if the person was under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012; came to the U.S before they turned 16; lived continuously in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present; were in U.S. on June 15, 2012 and when the person requested deferred action status.
According to estimates, there are 800,000 undocumented immigrants covered by this order in the U.S., with over 40,000 of that total in New York. The Dreamers, as they’re often called, are students, but also in the military, emergency responders, healthcare aides, doctors in training and perhaps the person who served you breakfast at your local coffee shop this morning.
Last week, President Trump ended the program. His argument is that the Obama decision was unconstitutional because Congress, not the White House, is supposed to set immigration law.
Of course the President is entitled to his opinion on what’s constitutional and what’s not, but the federal courts are the decisionmaker, not him.
And this is not an academic issue; hundreds of thousands of people’s futures are on now at risk—as well as their families, friends and people who work with them and benefit from their presence..
The President’s argument is that the Congress can figure this out. Under the President’s decision, the Congress has six months to do so.
However, real people are now being held hostage. If the Congress fails to act, hundreds of thousands of people who grew up in American could face deportation.
The Trump Administration and the Congressional majority argue that DACA recipients have taken jobs away from Americans and that the program unfairly protects people who are in the country illegally.
In a nation of over 300 million people, the number of DACA recipients is relatively small and can’t possibly have had much impact on the American jobless rate. Moreover, these individuals came here as children. They’ve grown up in this country, come through the public school system and view it as home.
As a result, the Trump Administration’s policy means that the nation is turning its back on immigrants who contribute to the American economy and society and who've basically spent their whole lives in the US.
Members of both parties in Congress say they want to come up with a fix that won't leave these immigrants out in the cold. We’ll see. This Congress hasn’t been productive so far.
Fixing DACA is only one action that must be taken, and that action should be clear. But there is the much larger issue of what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, as well as the policy for accepting immigrants in the future.
For a nation founded on immigration, shutting its doors to future immigrants and threatening the livelihoods and very lives of those already here – even those without documentation – is both cruel and shortsighted.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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