By rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, President Trump has cast a shadow of fear and uncertainty over 800,000 young undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. These “Dreamers” were brought to the country as children, and they often have no conscious memories of any other home. They often speak fluent English (sometimes as a first language), they’ve built careers here and they’re established members of our society. Many of their spouses, siblings and children are U.S. citizens. Since DACA was implemented, more than 6,800 people in Kansas have enrolled in the program.
Since June 2012, DACA has allowed these young immigrants to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. During his first term, President Obama wanted Congress to pass legislation that would have given the Dreamers full legal status, but his attempts failed. Although DACA didn’t give Dreamers a path to citizenship, it protected them from deportation and granted them work permits for two years (after which, they could apply for renewal). To be eligible for DACA, undocumented immigrants needed to submit an application, undergo a background check (a clean criminal record is required), and prove that they were enrolled in high school or in possession of a diploma.
After the U.S. government encouraged these applicants to come forward five years ago, the Trump administration is threatening them with deportation. While there’s a six-month window for Congress to “legalize DACA” (as Trump put it on Twitter), Dreamers shouldn’t have to spend this time terrified that they’re in line for deportation. Trump says he’s willing to “revisit this issue” if Congress fails to act, but if this is the case, why cause so much pointless anxiety in the first place? Why not maintain DACA while Congress develops a more concrete proposal? Rep. Lynn Jenkins says she looks forward to working toward a “permanent solution” in Congress, but this doesn’t mean the temporary solution should be carelessly discarded – particularly when doing so betrays the trust of 800,000 young people who were honest enough to report their immigration status to the government.
A contingent of elected officials in Kansas celebrated Trump’s decision on DACA. Attorney General Derek Schmidt described the program as a “cruel illusion” and said the executive branch didn’t have the authority to protect Dreamers from deportation. He was also one of 10 attorneys general who called upon the Trump administration to end the program in June. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Kris Kobach said U.S. officials had been putting “foreigners ahead of their own citizens” – his typical appeal to zero-sum politics and tribal hatred.
But Schmidt ignores the fact that the constitutionality of DACA hasn’t been established. Despite Trump’s claim that “virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional,” 105 law professors defended its legality in an open letter to the administration last month. Michael Tan is an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, and he argues that the “U.S. government has repeatedly – and successfully – defended DACA against constitutional challenges.” Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on the constitutionality of a similar program – Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says DACA provides “unilateral executive amnesty,” but this isn’t true – “deferred action” just means the government won’t pursue deportation for two years, and the U.S. has been granting such requests for decades.
Make no mistake – the repeal of DACA was a political decision (one that Trump already appears to be reconsidering). The program’s legality may be disputed, but this doesn’t change the fact that Trump, Sessions, Kobach, Schmidt and many other U.S. officials have decided to treat 800,000 blameless people like criminals.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.