Terry McLaughlin: Time for Congress to get to work on DACA
After Congress failed to pass several versions of the DREAM Act, which would have bestowed legal status on illegal immigrants brought by their parents to the United States as children, President Barack Obama issued an executive order in June of 2012 allowing those children to apply for protection from deportation, saying “This is not a path to citizenship. This is a temporary stopgap measure.”
Once the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) status had been granted and youth had received an Employment Authorization Card, they were eligible to apply for a Social Security Number. The DACA program has reportedly impacted approximately 800,000 youth.
DACA was challenged by many as an unconstitutional effort to exempt an entire group of people from laws passed by Congress. Indeed, in 2011, before issuing this executive order, President Obama himself stated “With respect to the notion that I can suspend deportations through executive order … That’s just not the case. Because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed … Congress passes the law, the executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws … for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those Congressional mandates, would not conform with my appropriate role as President.”
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, referring to immigrant children crossing the border illegally from Central America, told CNN in June 2014 that “We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay. So, we don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”
Rather than terminating the DACA program, as he could have legally done, President Trump announced on Sept. 5 that he would extend DACA for six months, saying “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws. The legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws … We will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process.”
For this statement, the current President has repeatedly been called “cruel,” “heartless” and “brainless.” California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said this of President Trump’s actions: “It’s hateful. It’s vicious. It’s cruel. It’s disgusting.”
Despite this manufactured outrage, the announcement on Sept. 5 included several very important provisions:
The termination of DACA will not take place for six months, allowing time for Congress to create legislation on this issue that is both compassionate and constitutional.
Despite rumors to the contrary, DACA youth will not be targeted for deportation. The White House has repeatedly emphasized that the focus is on criminals and those who pose a threat to national security. President Trump himself said clearly “I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity or are members of a gang.”
The exact timing of the President’s decision was undoubtedly affected by the looming threat of a lawsuit against the federal government being filed by 10 state attorneys general, which gave the administration a Sept. 5 deadline to revoke DACA, or the lawsuit would proceed. A similar lawsuit was filed in 2014, after President Obama expanded the order to include parents of DACA beneficiaries, with a program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Resident (DAPA). In that suit, the courts rejected the action, asserting that, indeed, the executive branch does not have the solitary power to grant legal status to immigrants.
The Supreme Court deadlocked on DAPA in 2016, leaving in effect the decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding an injunction that blocked DAPA. Based upon this court’s decision and the opinions of many legal experts, including the U.S. Attorney General, it was deemed likely that any lawsuit would ultimately have resulted in the immediate termination of DACA. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) seems to agree. Appearing on MSNBC Sept. 5, Feinstein admitted that DACA was on “shaky legal ground.” She went on to argue that the only way DACA recipients will be able to avoid deportation is through congressional action, and that “Congressional action must be our top priority.”
With a six-month extension of the program and the directive to Congress to create reasonable and compassionate legislation, President Trump has shown a willingness to work with members of both parties in Congress to support protections like DACA for the children of illegal immigrants.
The debate will be difficult and will require answering tough questions.
How do we protect the innocent while not rewarding those who broke our laws? How do we avoid providing incentives for more flaunting of our laws? How do we show compassion for those seeking a better life in America while also protecting the opportunities and security of our own citizens?
We can disagree on the appropriate level of legal immigration and the best ways in which to reform our current laws, but careful and pragmatic reasoning and adherence to lawful conduct, combined with respect for human dignity, persuasiveness and prudence will all be necessary tools in this process.
As President Trump stated, “It’s time for Congress to get to work.”
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Nevada City, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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