A significantly fractured Supreme Court on Thursday shot down the Trump administration’s efforts to undo the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, concluding—without ruling on the merits of the policy itself—that the government’s order canceling DACA was “arbitrary and capricious.” But the president’s efforts also were cold, heartless and counter to the nation’s best interests, so it’s encouraging that the court allowed the program to continue.
But DACA survived on a technicality. Had the administration taken the time to lay a proper foundation for its impulsive action to withdraw the protections for the Dreamers, this decision could have gone the other way. So as heartening as the court’s decision might be, it does not resolve the underlying issue.
DACA is, at best, a temporary solution to a broader problem, and it’s one of the more frustrating aspects of our long-running political impasse over immigration reform. Reasonable minds—and a majority of Americans regardless of political affiliation—recognize that the Dreamers stand in a unique position not of their own creation, and justice and fairness dictate that they receive some accommodation. Yet DACA, which is a policy decision that is demonstrably susceptible to political vagaries, doesn’t do that. It just delays the crafting of a real solution.
The Obama administration crafted DACA in 2012 after a bipartisan proposal in Congress was scuttled by the deep partisan divisions on immigration policy. It provides temporary protections against deportation for people who meet specific criteria based on their arrival and length of residence in the United States, who have led productive lives through jobs or schooling, and who have not had significant run-ins with the law. Most of the Dreamers bear little responsibility for their presence here since they were brought as minor children by parents or guardians.
It would be manifestly unfair, as the anti-DACA folks demand, to uproot them from the only country most of them have ever really known and send them off to places that are not only foreign to them, but where in many instances they don’t speak the language. The hardship such deportations would create on people who are Americans in all but legal standing far outweighs any purported gain in hard-line enforcement of immigration laws.
There are other pragmatic reasons for finding a better solution to this problem. Those who qualify for DACA include parents of about 250,000 children born here in the U.S. What purpose is served in disrupting those families or, even worse, forcing parents to leave the country with children who are U.S. citizens? What sense does it make to force American children to pay a penalty for the long-ago misdeeds of their grandparents?
Further, the DACA-eligible folks have been educated here by U.S. taxpayers, contribute to the economy, and play significant roles in their communities. The Center for American Progress estimates that more than 200,000 DACA recipients are essential workers—including first responders, front-line health care workers, and food producers and distributors—during the coronavirus pandemic. The nation should reward them by kicking them out?
The solution here is clear. An overwhelming majority of Americans, including Republicans, believe the government should leave the Dreamers alone and craft a path to citizenship. That can be done only by Congress. President Donald Trump has been an unreliable figure on this issue, saying at one point that he would support legislation to help the Dreamers, but then holding the issue hostage to his own dreams for a border wall with Mexico. Whether Trump would do the right thing now as he campaigns for reelection is anyone’s guess, but Congress should make the effort and force the issue. And if Trump successfully vetoes it, the nation can hope that the next president could fix it come January.
At a base level, it’s troubling and dysfunctional that a relative handful of xenophobes among Trump’s base can in effect block a sensible humanitarian act supported by the vast majority of their fellow citizens. That is the antithesis of a healthy democracy. And in this instance, it has a drastic impact on the lives of people caught up in circumstances created by others. Congress needs to get its act together and take an obvious step in the national interest.