A Potential Nightmare for Dreamers

There are currently nearly 800,000 of them in the United States. They are men and women who are working and paying taxes and have lived here since childhood but who will be subject to deportation if the DACA program is ended.

DACA, The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is the Obama-era American immigration policy that has allowed some who were brought into the country as minors, and had either entered or remained here illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of “deferred action” from deportation and to be able to obtain work permits. To be eligible for the program, recipients may not have felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records.

Janet Napolitano, the head of the Department of Homeland Security in 2012, was DACA’s architect, convincing then-President Obama that it was an efficient and fair way to streamline an ever-growing backlog of immigration cases.

Those technically illegal immigrant American residents are popularly referred to as “Dreamers,” a reference to the DREAM Act bill (the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act”), a proposal first introduced in the Senate in 2001 by Democratic Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, to grant alien minors conditional residency and, if conditions were met, eventual permanent residency in the country. The bill, introduced several times since, failed to pass. In 2012, Mr. Obama, invoking his presidential powers, announced the DACA policy to extend temporary protections to Dreamers.

The policy, however, was rescinded by President Trump last September. He contended that his predecessor’s policy was unconstitutional, but he gave Congress six months to decide how to deal with the population that was previously eligible under the policy.

Research shows that DACA increased the wages and labor force participation of DACA-eligible immigrants, and reduced the number of unauthorized immigrant households living in poverty. There are also no known major adverse impacts from DACA on native-born workers’ employment, and most economists say that the DACA program benefits the U.S. economy.

Already, more than 12,000 Dreamers have lost their protective status and are currently subject to deportation. Every day, without a Congressional fix, 100 young people will be added to the list.

Congress faces a January 19 deadline to pass a spending resolution to keep the government open, and some are suggesting that a DACA fix should be included. President Trump has voiced support for a new law to protect Dreamers, but last week seemed to predicate his support on legislation to construct the Mexican border wall that he made a hallmark of his presidential campaign; on laws to restrict visa overstays and so-called “chain migration” (where relatives legally immigrate to join certain close relatives who are legally in the U.S.); and on putting an end to the visa lottery program, or “green card” program, which makes available 50,000 immigrant visas annually to applicants from countries with low rates of immigration in the previous five years.

Democrats in Congress insist that there is no reason for linking a DACA fix to other measures, and that it should stand independent of any other legislation.

Last week, former Department of Homeland Security Secretaries Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano, and Jeh Johnson sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging passage of legislation to protect Dreamers by January 19th. The former Secretaries, who served under both President Bush and President Obama, stressed that creating a secure and reliable process to protect Dreamers will take time, followed by a period of months to ensure individual applicants are thoroughly reviewed.

Eleven governors have also weighed in, urging immediate action on DACA. Recent polls show that the American public overwhelmingly supports giving Dreamers the opportunity to stay in the United States. Among Republican voters, fully 70 percent expressed such support.

A group of five senators from both sides of the aisle are currently negotiating to craft legislation addressing both Dreamers and border security, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said if there is bipartisan agreement on such a deal, he will bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.

While our nation’s security is rightly a major priority for the Trump administration, DACA recipients don’t deserve to face deportation from the only country they have ever called home. The public, Congress and President Trump all recognize that.

We urge Congress to, without delay, craft legislation to both satisfy the President’s security concerns and protect Dreamers from deportation. Time is running out, and these young men and women, who came here as children and know of no other homeland, deserve to be treated compassionately and fairly.