On Dreamers and Decency in America

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Josué Romero embraces his mother Norma Velasquez after being released by ICE custody.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

DACA student Josué Romero embraces his mother Norma Velasquez after being released from ICE custody. Romero would be one of many affected should President Donald Trump decide to end DACA.

A critical immigration policy initiative that should be preserved and expanded by President Donald Trump is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Initiated by President Barack Obama in June 2012, DACA allows some who entered the U.S. as children to receive a renewable two-year protection from deportation, access to higher education, and a work permit.

As members of Latino and Jewish Diaspora communities that have full faith in the vitality of the American dream and strive to contribute to its advancement, our respective organizations welcomed DACA and continue to encourage members of Congress to work energetically for its continuation, even as the search for comprehensive immigration reform continues.

While some have criticized the way Obama introduced DACA, by executive order, the controversy should not be allowed to eclipse the profoundly important policy interests that the program serves. DACA recognizes that the presence of these so-called “Dreamers” in the United States poses no threat, is valuable to the economy and larger society, and realizes our intrinsic identity as a nation of immigrants. Notably, DACA was developed by the same administration that deported a record 2.6 million undocumented immigrants.

Moreover, this important initiative emerged following Congress’ failure to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. DACA does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship. It does offer a pragmatic, temporary solution for individuals who had no say in moving to our country as children, and no responsibility regarding their undocumented status. They are here because their parents simply sought a better life for them.

Immigrants eligible for DACA must have entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday and lived here continuously since June 15, 2007; be currently in school, a high school graduate, or honorably discharged from the military; be under age 31 as of June 15, 2015; and have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or otherwise pose a threat to national security. DACA is almost entirely funded by its own application fees.

When the program began, the Pew Research Center estimated that 1.1 million people might be eligible. Nearly 750,000 already have been approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They identified themselves and submitted information to federal authorities in good faith under the assumption that the information would only be used for the approval process itself, apart from emergency security measures.

Amidst the heated debate over immigration, Trump underscored that he wants to find the right solution for the Dreamers, though he has not expressly walked back his campaign pledge to end DACA along with Obama’s other executive actions.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” the president said before his inauguration. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We join the more than 600 university presidents across the U.S. who signed a statement citing DACA as “both a moral imperative and a national necessity,” depicting Dreamers as representing “what is best about America.”

“With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech, and the non-profit sector; they have gone to medical school, law school, and graduate schools in numerous disciplines. They are actively contributing to their local communities and economies,” the university presidents’ letter stated. “To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Reneging on DACA would send an undesirable signal to the world, contrary to the sense so many abroad have, about the U.S. experience of over 240 years, as an exemplar of hope and pluralism. Domestically, it would be a significant setback in our long and arduous quest for generous and constructive inclusiveness, a pursuit that epitomizes who we are as a nation. On the other hand, presidential support for the BRIDGE Act, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and its quick passage, would be the reassurance the Dreamers and DACA supporters need now.

DACA is a pragmatic solution for a small portion of the millions awaiting commonsense policies to fix our broken immigration system. Welcoming, not penalizing, these young people is consonant with our nation’s foundational principles and the best traditions that have made America an exceptional and exemplary nation.

What do we ask of President Trump? That DACA not only be upheld, but expanded until a permanent and comprehensive legislation is put into place.

Let’s work together to make America proud.

 

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