On September 5, US President Donald Trump announced that he would repeal President Obama's executive action called DACA. Passed in June 2012, DACA allows some illegal immigrants who entered the country as minors deferred action against deportation for a period of two years and work permit eligibility. Conservatives have been arguing for DACA being unconstitutional since 2012, while liberals have argued that DACA is a necessary humanitarian measure. In this article, Alec Sweet and James Dail contend with the merits of DACA's repeal.
Over the weekend, the Trump administration decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was put into place by the Obama Administration. This action has caused considerable backlash even among some Republican members of Congress. This issue is one that affects many people as friends, family and community members could be personally affected. It is estimated that there will be around 800k people affected by the ending of the DACA program. However, it is important to evaluate the Trump administration's actions based on its merits rather than on emotion.
Those who are covered by the DACA program are commonly referred to as Dreamers; however even though they may have an innocent label, it is still a fact that they are individuals who entered the country illegally. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 237, anyone who enters the US without proper documentation or who overstays their visa are considered illegal aliens and are subject to deportation . It is an objectively true statement to say every Dreamer has broken US law. Allowing those who have broken US immigration law to stay here without consequence provides little deterrent to stop others from doing the same in the future. In fact, after Obama announced DACA, thousands of Central Americans rushed to immigrate to the US in hopes that they too would be able to be covered. By ending DACA, the Trump administration can finally put a foot down on illegal immigration. In this regard, ending DACA is a matter of principle; allowing those who have flaunted the US justice system to remain is unjust to every immigrant who has immigrated legally.
DACA has also allowed older illegal immigrants to remain in the US under de facto amnesty. Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo that gave prosecutors “prosecutorial discretion”. This memo instructed Immigration officers to allow illegal residents who had children protected by DACA to remain in the country to avoid breaking up the family . This essentially expanded DACA to not only the children but the parents as well.
The DACA application process is also heavily flawed. DACA applicants are still eligible for a renewed status even after two misdemeanors. Also, DACA applicants that have committed felonies are still eligible if they were not convicted of the felony. To get a job prior to their DACA status, many DACA covered individuals committed felonies by forging green cards or committing social security fraud. These crimes in addition to gang related crimes are difficult to prosecute allowing many individuals to escape justice for their crimes . Because of the lax DACA vetting process, many individuals are given protection that should not receive it. Additionally, since 2012, over 1,500 Dreamers have had their statuses revoked after having connections to violent gangs . It is imperative to have the utmost caution with programs such as DACA, because while eliminating all crime is impossible and crimes committed by Dreamers are going to be a very small percentage, those crimes committed by DACA members are preventable crimes and a program like DACA should have had much more stringent requirements.
"Crimes committed by DACA members are preventable crimes and a program like DACA should have had much more stringent requirements."
Furthermore, the DACA program rests on extremely narrow constitutional grounds. Obama himself initially admitted he did not have the power to enact this program before later reversing his mind . DACA is an overreach by the administrative branch and Trump’s decision to end the program is eliminating this governmental overreach. The fact is that Congress has legislative power and the executive branch should not involve itself in matters where the Constitution has given jurisdiction to another branch. Trump has even included a six-month delay to the end of the program to give Congress time to attempt to pass some sort of immigration reform. This delay is Trump’s attempt to allow Congress to do its job while simultaneously upholding the campaign promises that got him elected. Trump has said himself that he feels for Dreamers and wants there to be a solution that will make people “happy and proud ." His decision was not made out of vindictive hatred but instead from respect for the rule of law and for the legislative process.
DACA also has negative effects on American citizens. Many activists claim that illegal immigration is a victimless crime but that is not true. In fact, the DACA program disproportionately has negative effects on the lower class and other minorities. Only 10% of those in the DACA program have college degrees, a further 15% are currently enrolled in college . This means 75% of those in the DACA program with only a high school diploma or less. 33 million working age Americans with high school diplomas are out of work . Furthermore, 42% of African Americans with only high school diplomas are out of work. A high majority of DACA individuals are employed and as such has created competition between these lower-class Americans and DACA individuals. This drives down wages and forces Americans who can find work to work for less. DACA is beloved by Wall St and businesses. Competition for jobs keeps wages low and makes it much more difficult for lower class Americans to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty. It is often overlooked that Dreamers can unintentionally crush the dreams of many minority Americans.
Some activists have pointed to Dreamers serving in the armed forces as proof that Trump is deporting hundreds of thousands of patriotic Americans. While this argument falls flat as only 900 Dreamers serve in the armed forces per the Pentagon; it does open up a good discussion for ways Congress can pass immigration reform . As Trump has given Congress 6 months to work on immigration reform, there are some ways for Congress to uphold American law while also considering the humanitarian situation of the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. Congress could pass a law granting amnesty to Dreamers that serve a certain amount of time in the military. Another possibility is giving Dreamers priority consideration under the legal immigration process. While they would still be held to the same standards as all other prospective immigrants, it would expedite the process and allow Dreamers who are actively contributing to America in a positive manner to immigrate legally.
Immigration and the DACA program are complicated issues, with no black and white answers. It is important to realize such complicated issues will have two sides. Yet one side has dominated public discourse on this issue and it is imperative that a debate occurs to solve these problems; without acknowledgment of this other side no debate can occur. Trump’s decision to end DACA is not the easy decision but it is the just decision.
“We are a nation of laws.”
This is a line frequently used by the opponents of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on the basis that it gives people who came to the United States illegally a free pass to continue breaking our immigration laws. The rationale behind it is that we need to respect and adhere to the government’s authority. For if we do not punish people for an illegal act, then are we really a nation at all? It is a line that will doubtless appear in my opponent’s argument. The problem with it is that it is not true. The United States was founded on treason. If we were a nation of laws, the Founding Fathers should have hanged. If we were a nation of laws, then modern Americans are wrong to condemn the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which sent thousands of Native Americans to their deaths through forced relocation. If we were a nation of laws, then civil rights icons from Rosa Parks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should not be praised for advancing racial harmonization, but should be derided as criminals. We are not a nation of laws. We have a lengthy history of refusing to adhere to the law if we perceive that it is unjust. We are a nation of just laws.
The question before me then, is if it is morally justified to let DACA stand, despite the fact that it runs counter to current US immigration law. The key point regarding this is that DACA does not deal with individuals who willingly entered the US. One of DACA’s main requirements is that applicants must have entered the United States before the age of sixteen . The people that DACA helps out came here under the guidance of their parents, many of whom were fleeing crushing poverty and violence in search of a better life. Their children had no say in the matter. Now, one could object that a fourteen or fifteen year old is not much different than anyone else who crosses the border illegally. They grew up in a foreign country, and they have friends who are not Americans. When they arrive our way of life is alien to them. In addition, it is entirely conceivable that a young teenager could have fled his family and struck for the US on his own. The problem with this line of argument though, is that this does not constitute the many, but the few. A survey from the Center for American Progress found that over 80% of DACA recipients arrived in the United States when they were ten years old or younger . For the vast majority of DACA recipients, the US is the only home that they have ever known, and sending them back would be cruel. Should the son be held accountable for the sins of his father?
"For the vast majority of DACA recipients, the US is the only home that they have ever known, and sending them back would be cruel."
Another thing that makes repealing DACA morally shameful is that it harms people who are working hard to earn their place as Americans. Common myths about the identity of DACA recipients persist. When many people think of illegal immigrants, they have certain images that come to mind. They picture a man who is willing to work for acutely low wages and gets paid off the books, thereby avoiding taxes. Yet, he still maintains a high quality of life through receiving generous welfare benefits. He makes no attempt to learn English and does little in the way of adapting to his new culture.
DACA recipients could not be further from this, and all attempts to characterize them as such are blatantly false. If they had legal status, then DACA members would be praised as being model citizens. The requirements to be eligible for DACA are stringent. An individual must commit no crime or misdemeanor, and either have a high school diploma, a GED, or an honorable discharge from the military . Many go above and beyond the requirements. A study conducted by the Cato Institute found that 17% of DACA recipients currently have or are working towards, an advanced degree . This compares with 12% of the population at large . Since their educational attainment exceeds that of the rest of the United States, it can be reasonably inferred that DACA recipients are not content to work for low wages. Rather, they are pursuing the American promise of a better life. Furthermore, studies conducted by the University of California San Diego, the National Immigrant Law Center, and the Center for American Progress have all found that DACA has a positive impact on the economy . Given the statistics about their level of education, this makes sense. Workers who are highly educated are more productive at work and end up producing more, benefiting the rest of us. By any measure, the DACA recipients should be America’s pride and joy. It would be an incredible waste of talent to send them away.
We do not have to be a country with open borders, nor should we be. By now, it should be completely apparent that, in spite of US immigration law, DACA should be upheld. To not do so would be morally atrocious. The United States is the only home that DACA recipients have ever known. As adults, they are just hard-working people who are trying to pursue a better way of life. In short, they look a lot like the average American.
Sources and Notes
Featured Image: "Defend DACA" by mollyswork — Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr Creative Commons —https://flic.kr/p/YvQBDx