Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling concerning DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, did not conclusively establish the status of people who were brought to the country illegally as children. But it gave such people, many of them now productive taxpaying citizens who have known no other home but our country, some respite from the fear of imminent deportation that has hung over them in recent years.
There are currently some 700,000 such non-citizen residents of the United States, who have come to be known as “Dreamers” — after a Congressional proposal, the “Dream Act,” that was introduced in 2001 and was passed by the House last year but is opposed by many Republicans and thus unlikely to fare well if brought to the Senate.
DACA, which was an executive order declared in 2012 by then-President Obama, allows the law-abiding children of undocumented residents to receive a renewable two-year period of “deferred action” from deportation and to be able to obtain work permits.
Last week’s High Court decision was a narrow one, both in the justices’ vote — 5 to 4 — and in the scope of its holding, which was only that the administration did not follow the proper procedures for terminating DACA. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority to uphold the Obama executive action, made clear that the decision was based on procedural issues and that the Trump administration could still try to redress them.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” he wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
President Trump, in 2017, praised the program’s goals and suggested he wanted to preserve it. “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” he tweeted.
But more recently, the president has seemed to sour on the idea underlying DACA, claiming that “many of the people” eligible for the program are “no longer very young” and “far from ‘angels’.”
“Some,” he claimed, “are very tough, hardened criminals.”
But to be eligible for DACA, applicants’ records must be free of any felony or serious misdemeanor convictions. They must also show that they arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 and are currently no older than 30, that they have lived here for at least the previous five years, and were either in school, graduated from high school, received a G.E.D. certificate or were honorably discharged veterans.
At issue in the High Court’s decision was a 2017 memo from Elaine C. Duke, then the acting secretary of Homeland Security, rescinding DACA. She offered no policy reasons for the move, contending only that the executive order was unlawful.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Ms. Duke’s claim was inadequate.
He added, quoting from a brief filed in the case, that young immigrants had “enrolled in degree programs, embarked on careers, started businesses, purchased homes and even married and had children,” relying on the program. Excluding DACA recipients from the workforce, he contended, could result in the loss of $215 billion in economic activity and $60 billion in federal tax revenues over the next decade.
“Acting Secretary Duke should have considered those matters but did not,” Mr. Roberts wrote. “That failure was arbitrary and capricious.”
Research has indeed shown that DACA increased the wages and labor force participation of DACA-eligible immigrants and reduced the number of unauthorized immigrant households living in poverty. Most economists contend that the DACA program benefits the economy and does not adversely affect native-born Americans’ employment.
On Erev Shabbos, President Trump signalled that he intends to submit new paperwork to address the recent decision and rescind DACA.
Both the president and DACA advocates agree, though, on the need to somehow address what should be the easiest-to-deal-with element of immigration reform — a clear path to citizenship for responsible people who were brought to our country when they had no say in the matter and have grown up here and become law-abiding, taxpaying residents of the U.S.
“I do not favor punishing children,” Mr. Trump said when he formally announced the termination.
Ideally, the Dreamers’ status should be addressed legislatively, conclusively, in Congress. Good-faith negotiations about the Dream Act between the two political parties in the Senate should take place in earnest. Because, while there are understandable differences of opinion on larger immigration issues, this particular one is worthy of solving quickly, once and for all. All that is needed is something unfortunately not in great supply these divisive days: good will and determination to work together to solve problems in a spirit of compromise.
The Dreamers’ dreams of citizenship would seem a good place to start toward reclaiming those ideals.