Central American migrants stand in line before entering a temporary shelter, after illegally crossing the border between Mexico and the US, in Deming, New Mexico, US. File/Reuters
Francis Wilkinson, Tribune News Service
It takes a strong stomach to be a “Dreamer,” and it probably will even after President Donald Trump leaves office.
The Department of Homeland Security this week said it would accept new applicants for the first time in three years to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The programme was devised by President Barack Obama in 2012 to allow undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children the chance to build a life in their only real homeland. (According to one survey, the average age at which a “Dreamer” arrived in the US was 6.) As Vox’s Dara Lind wrote in 2017, DACA enabled “Dreamers” to plan for the future and “freed them from some of the mental health damage that constant deportation stress can cause.”
Widely popular, DACA nonetheless immediately came under siege. The programme, which includes more than 600,000 people, has spent the better part of a decade on a roller coaster ride through the federal judiciary and around the hairpin turns of Trump’s anti-immigrant pursuits. In 2017, the Trump administration stopped accepting new applicants to the programme and established a schedule for phasing out protection for those who were already covered.
The Supreme Court, ruling 5-4 with Ruth Bader Ginsburg still on the bench, voided that plan in June, declaring that the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t properly followed federal procedures. A federal judge last month ruled that the department’s subsequent effort was also illegal, having been signed by an acting department head, Chad Wolf, who lacked legal authority. In other words, DACA hangs by the thread of Trump administration incompetence.
The department this week said it would recommence granting work permits and deportation deferrals to allow qualified applicants to work, study, obtain drivers’ licenses and gain professional credentials. (Last month, Jin Park of Harvard University became the first “Dreamer” to earn a Rhodes Scholarship. DACA status will enable him to travel legally back and forth to Oxford.)
Reprieves for “Dreamers” are invariably temporary, however, and this one is no different. There is still a case in federal court in which Texas and a handful of other states are suing to cancel DACA. America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy organisation, predicts that the conservative judge in the case will rule against DACA.
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the first “Dreamer” bill introduced in Congress. Even if President-elect Joe Biden manages another temporary rescue of DACA, the past two decades of flailing to produce a just solution for “Dreamers” represents a grave indictment of American political dysfunction.
A decade ago this month, the Senate nearly passed a Dream Act after the House had already done so. Six Democrats joined all but three Republicans in opposing it as it was filibustered into submission. The bill’s failure was an act of national self-sabotage: The US was in effect taking in children, investing in their educations, raising them to adulthood and then deciding that, all things considered, it preferred not to earn a return on its social and financial investment. Instead, the US would rather limit their potential, along with the social and economic gains that Americans would collectively realize.
The damage extends. Most “Dreamers” are integrated into American families. They have American siblings, spouses or children. By limiting “Dreamers,” America limits those family members too.
“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” Trump asked in 2017, at a moment when he was pretending to be part of the broad American mainstream that supports legal status for “Dreamers.” It was a rhetorical question, of course. The real answer is pretty alarming.
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