On September 5, the Trump administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known as DACA. A brainchild of former President Obama, DACA protected eligible undocumented immigrant youth from deportation and granted them permission to apply for work permits and driver’s licenses. While Trump’s decision was highly anticipated, the backlash has been extraordinary.
The most outspoken group condemning Trump’s decision has naturally been the DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” themselves. Trump’s decision places them all in a nebulous limbo in which their futures are uncertain. Of the nearly 800,000 Dreamers living in America, many are students; another 900 are serving in the US military; others are working multiple jobs to supplement their immigrant family’s income, which is typically very low. Yet, regardless of occupation, the future legal status of all such Dreamers is in question. The White House has said that DACA is no longer accepting new applications, and that those who already reap the benefits of the program could begin losing those rights after March 2018. The question therefore becomes: What happens then?
Adding to the ambiguity is a deal that Trump struck on September 7 with the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after which Trump posted a tweet saying, “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!” While the words were meant to comfort, many Dreamers doubt the sincerity behind them.
However, Dreamers are not only fearful for their own futures, but also for those of their loved ones. When DACA recipients initially registered for the program, they were required to provide an array of information, including the names and addresses of their immediate family. Most of these family members are also undocumented. Should the Trump administration sponsor immigration raids, these individuals whose information is known by the government could easily be tracked down and face deportation. The Department of Homeland Security has said that it does not currently plan to utilize this information in such a manner, but it also states that this data-sharing policy could change without warning.
Meanwhile, many Democrats and blue states are standing behind Dreamers. For example, attorneys general from 15 states and Washington, D.C. have filed a lawsuit against Trump’s decision, claiming that it violates due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution, as it was supposedly motivated by xenophobia promulgated in Trump’s presidential campaign.
The issue became even more complicated when not just Democrats, but even several Republicans offered sympathy for DACA recipients. One notable critic of Trump’s decision, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., has stated that “For most of these young people, the United States is the only country they have ever called home. These children have attended school with our own children, worship at our churches, and grow up seeking to serve in our military, pursue a degree in higher learning, or contribute to our workforce and economy…. These are America’s children and they should not have to live in constant fear of being deported to their parents’ homeland, a place many of them have no connection to or memories of living in.”
Additionally, various politicians from both sides of the aisle believe that DACA recipients should continue living in the country for other reasons, including economic ones. An estimated 700,000 US jobs would be lost with the repeal of DACA, and the New York Times says that “projections by the government and advocacy groups show that the economy will need to add hundreds of thousands of workers in these fields [in which immigrants work] over the next five to 10 years simply to keep up with escalating demand, caused primarily by a rapidly aging population.” In total, the decision to repeal DACA and deport its recipients would cost the U.S. economy an estimated $400 billion.
However, despite the widespread criticism of Trump’s decision, it would be misguided to say that there are few Americans in support of the Trump Administration’s stance on DACA. Some supporters of the repeal claim the heart of the issue is not immigration itself, per se, but rather constitutionality. For example, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated in a letter that Obama’s creation of DACA through executive order was “a circumvention of immigration laws [that] was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.” Therefore, he stated, repealing DACA would help to restore rule of law in the country.
Many Republicans have similar views regarding the constitutionality of DACA, but would in fact be open to continuing DACA if it were passed through official Congressional means. One member of this group, Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., has stated that the DACA repeal “has little to do with its policy substance and everything to do with its implementation.” Therefore, he says, he would support potential Congressional efforts aimed at fixing the problem.
However, a different Republican perspective holds that DACA itself is the problem. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), for example, has stated that allowing DACA to continue would “encourage other people to bring their children here across the border in the future, which is a very dangerous thing to do.” For critics like Senator Cotton, DACA is seen as a form of “amnesty,” which rewards, rather than condemns, those who entered the United States without legal documentation. The conviction of 40% of Americans that immigrants hurt the economy and the popular belief that immigrants are responsible for high crime rates are other powerful sources of anti-DACA sentiment. Nevertheless, despite opposition, an overwhelming 76% of Americans and 69% of Republicans specifically want Dreamers to remain in the United States.
Congress is now faced with a dilemma. It has 6 months to create a legislative solution; otherwise, by March 2018, DACA recipients will lose their status and be vulnerable to deportation. Democrats have threatened to logjam the fall session if there is not a stand-alone vote on DACA soon, but with so many varying opinions, the outcome of this dilemma cannot be certain.
Yet, as this hot-button issue comes to a summit, Dreamers will stay waiting. Because no matter where one figuratively stands in this debate, one fact of the matter remains – over 800,000 young men and women are worried because they have no idea where they will be after March of 2018.