Opinions about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are mixed.
Some don’t like the unilateral executive action that it represents, regardless of the party or the program. Executive orders should be extremely limited in scope, they say, to avoid the potential disruption that comes with a new president from a different party.
Others say DACA was the only avenue available to President Obama in the face of a Republican-controlled House in 2011 that would not even hold hearings.
But on one thing there is agreement, even among opponents of DACA as executive overreach: Dreamers don’t deserve to be penalized for the actions of their parents. And after five years, the program has shown its worth in enrolling 800,000 people, all of whom are either working or students, per the rules. With much of the country at statistical full employment, it can’t be argued that they are taking low-wage jobs from Americans – in fact, as legal residents they must be paid minimum wage instead of under-the-table sub-minimums that do compete with Americans. And they must pay all applicable payroll taxes, including Social Security and Medicare. And many have become entrepreneurs, owning their own businesses and employing others, including legal citizens – it’s an example of a government incentive program, not taxpayer subsidies, spurring economic growth.
They also don’t take up spots in college that would go to U.S. citizens – at NAU there are fewer than a dozen Dreamers, and there are no caps on overall enrollment. Any Arizona high school student who meets minimum standards is admitted, and there is plenty of room for Dreamers.
And DACA hasn’t encouraged more illegal entries by parents or children – the cutoff for illegal entry to qualify is 2007, so the only new Dreamers are those turning the minimum age of 16 if they arrived before 2007. Keeping them in the legal shadows doesn’t make the border any more secure or the country safer, and it doesn’t address major problems with the system such as visa overstays while it does log all of them into the national immigration database and subjects them to a thorough background check. As a result, the violent crime rate among qualified Dreamers is far, far lower than in the general population for that age group of 16 to 31.
The debate, then, should be over how to enable Dreamers to pursue school and work while comprehensive immigration reform is either worked out or rejected by Congress once and for all (if there is such an outcome possible). The first order of business should be to hold current Dreamers harmless if DACA is killed in six months by the president and not replaced by Congress. They shouldn’t be penalized for participating in a government program that essentially offered them legal amnesty – once they came out of the shadows, they should be at least allowed to return to the shadows and not face the risk of deportation any greater than the other 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants. They will have suffered enough if their ability to get a legal job or enroll in college is rescinded.
The most ethical course would be to allow current Dreamers to have permits renewed indefinitely even if the program expires for new applicants. The concept of grandfathering is applied to other government programs that expire, including land leases and some tax exemptions, and current adults brought here illegally as minors deserve some consideration.
But the best solution is for Congress to enact a new and similar DACA program outright based on the overwhelmingly positive results to date -- and with a straight up or down vote on its merits. But the bill is likely to be larded with other pet projects, such as the border wall, or with must-pass items like raising the debt ceiling and reauthorizing federal flood insurance. Democrats won’t like the former and the Freedom Caucus the last two, so there’s a risk of stalemate that voters of all stripes should condemn as unacceptable.
We’d urge Congress to put aside the partisan gamesmanship and do the right thing by Dreamers in their own right. If a Dreamer bill must contain other items, make them related to immigration reform even if it isn’t comprehensive. Visa overstays and hiring enforcement would be good places to start. After all Congress has six months – what can go wrong?