The current public debate over the fate of children who entered the United States illegally, many with their illegal immigrant parents, raises the quandary over what should now be done.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program began with a policy memorandum issued by President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and was later endorsed by President Obama in a move that bypassed the Republican-controlled Congress.
DACA offered biennially renewable exemptions from deportation and work permits to children brought to our country illegally prior to age 16 and June 2007 and had lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years. Eligibility criteria for DACA also include current student status, high school graduation or GED, or honorable discharge from the U.S. military, and the absence of a criminal record.
The beneficiaries of this program have been labeled as “DREAMers” after the acronym DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors). While there is obvious sympathy for these children and young adults, the fact remains that they still entered our country illegally.
The outcry raised by President Trump’s recommendation that the program be phased out underscores the fact that many American citizens simply do not understand the rationale for immigration rules and the need to support them.
Allowing Congress to formally review this program would begin a process that should have been done in the first place. Many of the 800,000 people who could be affected by the rescinding of DACA have lived illegally in the United States for much of their young lives. A congressional review will provide an opportunity for bipartisan legislation and, if a permanent exception is made only for this current group of illegal immigrants, it should be exactly that: a one-time delimited exception.
Our nation was largely founded, advanced and sustained by people who were either legal immigrants or the offspring of legal immigrants. We must never forget that millions of immigrants have entered America legally and gone through the lengthy process of becoming US citizens.
Anything that undermines this process through workarounds like DACA – a deferral of deportation, not a direct pathway to citizenship – ultimately sends the wrong message to the many who are willing to follow the rule of law.