Thursday, December 1, 2022

The president has a great deal for Dreamers


The White House announced on Sunday that President Donald Trump would be willing to stop shooting down what are essentially bipartisan efforts in Congress to protect young people who came into the US illegally but fell under the protection of DACA if certain demands are met, the New York Times reports.

A Defend DACA march in North Carolina (Rodney Dunning/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was an Obama administration executive action or order that allowed people who had entered the US at a certain age and during certain years to be shielded from deportation. Mr Trump ended the DACA program last month but gave Congress six months to come up with a solution for what to do with the 800,000 or so young immigrants who are already here.

In a typical “Let’s Make a Deal” fashion, Mr Trump said he could see a way to provide legal status for the 800,000 if programs he is pushing are part of the deal:

  • Construct a wall across the southern border
  • Hire 10,000 new immigration agents and hundreds of judges
  • Require companies to run job applicants through a tougher screening
  • Make it tougher for arriving immigrants to seek asylum
  • Deny federal grants to “sanctuary cities”
  • Improve the entry-exit visa system to ensure visitors leave on time
  • Enforce overstays more vigorously in internal processes

Administration officials say these policies may be all necessary at this time, but DACA protections began winding down on September 5, when the government stopped accepting applications for two-year renewals. In March, illegal immigrants will start losing their DACA protection and could be deported—all of them within two years, unless Congress and the president act to change that course.

Immigration advocates like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, said in a joint statement that the president isn’t negotiating in good faith. “The administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community, and to the vast majority of Americans,” they wrote.

Although the two Democratic leaders said they would be willing to accept reasonable boosts to border security, the list of “demands” from the president doesn’t seem like a good-faith compromise. In addition to their objections to the president’s negotiating tactics—or rather, his non-negotiating tactics—the main reason I’m opposed to this list is that it will make life worse for children who are walking the halls of our schools, making productive contributions to life in their communities. For example, although more immigration agents and judges would be a good start, perhaps (there’s a tremendous backlog of immigration cases that need to be processed), it could also hasten deportation without due process for more people.

Deeply affected by the goings-on in Washington has been one student at Annandale High School in Virginia, according to a report in The A Blast, the student newspaper there.

“When I first heard that Trump had ended DACA, I immediately broke down into tears,” the student, who came to the US when she was 1, was quoted as saying. “All my plans for the future had just disappeared as if I was sailing into the ocean and a storm wiped out my boat.”

School districts everywhere are making statements on the record that they stand behind all their students, even those under the protection of DACA. The school board in Chandler, Arizona, sent a letter about DACA to the state’s congressional delegation.

The Chandler Unified School District’s Governing Board members, school administrators and staff are sensitive to the impact this decision has on our families. We stand firm in our commitment to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment, without regard to race, religion, national origin or immigration status.

Many of the young people who were given a deferment under the DACA ‘Dreamer’ program are students and graduates of the Chandler Unified School District or other public schools across Arizona and the United States.

They are teachers, nurses and custodians. They are productive members of our community—the only community they have ever known. As a community, we have invested in them and value their potential. We urge members of Congress to consider their value to our communities and create a permanent path for their legal status.

But while there are heroes in any subgroup as big as 800,000, there are also statistics, which paint a slightly different picture.

Based on federal government data, Harvard University research shows most DACA recipients are between the ages of 20 and 36. About 320,000 DACA participants, or about 40 percent, are either high school dropouts or stopped their education after 12th grade. But in my view, the fact that many DACA recipients fail to achieve the “American Dream” isn’t a good reason to strip them of the opportunity to achieve it.

Whether these students’ failure to achieve high marks in education is an effect of their status as illegal immigrants is up for debate, but in Congress and across America, opponents of DACA in the first place see these stats as representing people who directly compete with or displace America’s most vulnerable workers in the low-wage labor market sector.

But when they came to the US as children, they were often escaping poverty, hunger, and even violence in their native countries—or their parents were helping them to escape these dire conditions. Would we see a pattern of education completion that more closely resembles that of Americans in America if we treated DACA recipients a little better and allowed them better access to jobs and programs? Can we take away the fear that even applying for a job will raise a red flag in some federal immigration enforcement office?

This will remain an unanswered question, which is why I thought DACA from the Obama administration was quite an elegant solution. It didn’t change what they did to a legal act, but at the same time, it didn’t dismiss them without heart and it let them live productive lives in their new homeland. Congress must forge a solution to the problem, and even without the wall (it doesn’t look like there’s enough support in Congress to get the wall right now), the president needs to sign it.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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