You have probably heard about the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). Considered to be President Obama’s signature immigration achievement, DACA was meant to protect unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the US as children by offering two-year deferrals from deportation. Most of those covered by DACA, commonly called “DREAMers,” have spent the majority of their lives in the US and now are young adults. To be eligible for DACA, DREAMers had to arrive in the US before 2007, have been 15 years old or younger when they arrived, and under the age of 31 when DACA was created in June 2012. They must typically complete high school, not have any felonies on their record, and not be deemed a threat to national security. While it is estimated that 1.3 million people would be eligible for DACA, it currently covers around only 800,000 people.
The official reasons for ending DACA are many: During Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ press conference, he claimed that DACA was unconstitutional; that it granted illegal immigrants the same benefits available to citizens; that DREAMers hurt the economy and were stealing jobs; that ending DACA would actually help immigrant assimilation. While the question of DACA’s constitutionality is up for debate, the rest of Sessions’ arguments were total bunk. While DACA recipients pay into Social Security, none are old enough to receive payments from it. DREAMers are ineligible for healthcare subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps or cash assistance. Most actual economists agree that DREAMers help the economy and have, at most, a minimal effect on job availability. In fact, the notoriously right-leaning CATO Institute estimates that the economic cost to the country of losing these DREAMers will be over $200 billion by 2028. No one seems convinced by Sessions’ attacks on immigration. Many have instead attributed more nefarious motives for attacking DACA, ranging from blatant white nationalism, to avoiding costly lawsuits by state GOP attorneys general, to perhaps cold-hearted political calculating:
Immigration reform is all risk for the @GOP. Their base doesn’t want it and the 12M illegals will all vote Democrat.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2013
Regardless of his reasons for doing so, and despite cruelly assuring DREAMers that they had “nothing to worry about,” here we are. The President has left Congress with a pitifully short six-month grace period to respond to DACAs end. In the meantime, individuals whose DACA status expires before March 5, 2018, may still apply for renewal. Those whose status expires after March 6, 2018 shall be eligible for deportation on the same day. Department of Homeland Security officials have stated that they do not plan to change immigration enforcement policy for the time being, and will remain focused on undocumented criminals in order to give Congress time to act.
This is a sad twist of reality sure to ensnare millions of young people who have done nothing wrong. However, instead of focusing on just another example of the Trump administration’s excessively monstrous approach to handling the most vulnerable among us, we can look to what some of our country’s leaders, public and private, could do (or are doing) in response:
Congress. Clearly, Congress has the most power to help DREAMers, as they can pass legislation that would formally adopt deferral actions similar to those in DACA. The President, who would have to approve of such legislation, appears to be giving them the room to do so with the six-month grace period. There is some reason to hope Congress will act to protect these people in a way the President would not: House Speaker Paul Ryan has spoken affirmatively of such legislation being passed, and Democrats have threatened a legislative logjam if a stand-alone DACA vote is not had in September. Some even suggest that Trump struck a deal with Democrats over raising the debt-ceiling to facilitate a future agreement to codify DACA. Further, Perry Bacon Jr. of FiveThirtyEight.com calculated that if you combine all 48 Democratic senators with the four Republicans who supported similar legislation earlier this year, plus eight other Republicans who previously backed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, you would have a filibuster-proof 60-vote Senate majority.
Such a bill, though, would have to pass the House, which is a fool’s errand. As we all know, it is run by a deeply divided GOP that cannot seem to agree on anything, with large anti-immigration contingencies bent on resisting anything short of deportation. At least one Republican, Mike Coffman of Colorado, however, is attempting to end-run his party’s leadership by forcing consideration of DACA legislation through a “discharge petition” to grant DREAMers three years’ amnesty. A long shot, of course, but at least it would be forward action.
Democratic States. Fifteen states, plus DC, have taken proactive steps by suing the federal government to block the Trump administration from ending DACA. These states claim that, just as he did with the Muslim ban, Trump has demonstrated that his moves against immigration are motivated by bias. State representatives point to Trump’s pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his vile comments about Mexican immigrants as rapists at the start of his presidential campaign as proof of his animus. They also argue that ending DACA might strip DREAMers of the privacy rights they were guaranteed when they turned over personal information in exchange for enrollment in the program. But legal experts express doubts about the potential success of the suit, suggesting that the best result might only be to delay DACA’s expiration date.
Business Leaders. Especially in Silicon Valley, the nation’s business leaders have been vocal in their support for DREAMers. The CEOs of Google, Apple, Facebook and more have come out in favor of legislation to protect them. Many reference the hundreds of DREAMers that work for their companies. Michael Bloomberg and other moderate-to-conservative leaders formed a national business coalition to lobby for swift passage of DACA legislation. According to the Washington Post, this coalition will have more than 100 corporate leaders ready to put pressure on Congress.
But I have only found one company going the distance: Microsoft. The company has stated that it will defend from deportation the DREAMers it employs in court. While these companies clearly lack hard power in government, their soft influence is keenly felt. More companies taking a stand similar to that of Microsoft will likely be needed before Congress feels real public pressure to act.
Universities and Colleges. Institutions of higher learning nationwide have decisively come out in support of defending DREAMers and extending DACA. Some 680 university and college presidents signed a letter offering to meet with US leaders to discuss the issue. Numerous institutions — including the University of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater — are self-proclaimed sanctuary campuses and will not allow immigration enforcement agents onto campus without a warrant. The Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate liberal arts institutions in California, have gone even further, offering DREAMers legal aid and emergency grants. The University of California (whose president is former Homeland Security Secretary and original DACA engineer Janet Napolitano) has filed suit against the Trump administration, claiming that rescinding DACA is unconstitutional. Even primary schools are getting involved: the LA Unified School District has renewed its commitment to make it difficult for immigration officials to enter their campuses. Efforts similar to these by places of higher learning may not change the law, but may be extremely helpful in educating at-risk DREAMers and their supporters as to how they can help.
In the end, there is only one person with the real ability to take immediate action: President Trump. While he may face lengthy lawsuits, nothing technically stops him from renewing DACA indefinitely. In 2012, Trump even stated that he doesn’t believe that DREAMers should have to leave the country. (Trump flip-flopping? On a major issue? Get. Out.). He still states that he has compassion for them.
And now Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have publicly announced a tentative a deal with Trump to “enshrine the protections of [DACA] into law quickly” in exchange for increased border security. Trump, likely aware of the poor optics, quickly downplayed any such deal. Still, the President tweeted erstwhile support for DREAMers, alluding to them as hard workers innocent of wrongdoing. At this point, it’s obvious how unreliable he is and putting faith in him to do the right thing would be like waiting for Schumer’s majority counterpart, Mitch McConnell to express human emotion in public.
What can each us do to help DREAMers? Perhaps we should take a lesson from the success of activists in lobbying against the Obamacare repeal. Republicans have admitted that hearing personal hopes and fears from constituents changed their minds before, so doing so again with DACA may yield similar results. DACA recipients also benefit significantly from their public image which, contrary to public perception of most other immigrants, often focuses on their education and employment status. If we can reinforcing the positive effect of DREAMers on American society, we will likely go a long way toward neutralizing the immigration hawks. Sharing stories of valedictorian DREAMers, of DREAMers who serve in our military, of DREAMers who risked their lives to assist those who were endangered by Hurricane Harvey could profoundly and positively effect public discourse. The more sympathetic the country is toward DREAMers, and the more heartless politicians look, the more likely the federal government will respond. Activism is a thankless job, but instead of looking at the next six months as a dreaded countdown, it would be instead be more productive to view it as a deadline by which to change the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans.