DACA is again in danger. Congress can protect this population once and for all
Immigration is an issue fraught with multiple points of disagreement and one point where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tend to agree: Unauthorized immigrants brought here as children, who have essentially grown up as Americans, shouldn’t have to live under constant risk of deportation to countries they may not even remember. Yet despite that agreement across the political spectrum, Congress has continually failed to address the situation.
The result is that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a temporary solution created by executive order a decade, which is facing possible elimination in the courts. Congress must avert that potential humanitarian crisis by coming together on the one immigration issue on which it should be politically possible and stamping DACA’s provisions into federal law.
There are currently some 600,000 so-called Dreamers in the U.S. — young people who were brought here as babies or children by their parents, mainly from Latin America. While the parents violated immigration laws, their children had no choice in the matter. American life is generally all they have known. Many have never been to their native countries since arriving here. Some don’t even speak Spanish.
Polls consistently show that majorities of Americans oppose deporting this class of immigrants, even among Republicans and conservatives who are otherwise hawkish on immigration. The obvious solution is to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers who have adhered to the rules of society as they’ve grown up here. That premise has wide bipartisan support, yet Congress, being Congress, has never been able to reach agreement on legislation to provide that path. As with too much of federal policy today, it’s been left to presidents to address by executive order, which is how then-President Barack Obama created the deferred-action program in 2012.
Under the program, immigrants who arrived here as children and who meet other criteria — finishing high school, holding a job, not committing crimes — can apply for protection from deportation every two years and eventually apply for full citizenship. It’s a reasonable policy except for the way it was enacted.
While former President Donald Trump and some other empathy-deficient politicians have attacked the very premise of giving this population a path to citizenship, the more valid legal challenges have been about the fact that it has been carried out with legal authority even though Congress passed no such law. The latest blow came Wednesday, when a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling effectively declaring the program unlawful because of the way it was created.
That’s why Congress should act now to write the provisions of DACA into federal immigration law once and for all. Both parties have something to gain by showing Americans they can still work together to solve a problem with such a clear, reasonable and humane solution.