This September, when President Donald Trump attempted to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by President Obama in 2012, it once again landed in the news and has stayed there ever since, as bipartisan deals to pass it through Congress have flopped and culminated in a three-day government shutdown. Regarded as one of President Obama’s ‘signature’ achievements, the program was controversial from the beginning, and provides ‘temporary legal status’ to millions of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. To see what LVHS students’ opinions are on DACA and immigration, we did a school-wide survey with the help of Mr. Godoy (The results are later in the article.) But first, what is DACA? Who is eligible? And why is it so controversial?
DACA is an amnesty program, for which many immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors are eligible. There are some restrictions; recipients (known as Dreamers) must either be in high school or have a high school degree. If they dropped out of high school, applicants can join the military to become eligible for DACA. Also, immigrants brought to the U.S. after 2007 or who were older than 16 when they immigrated are not eligible. Of course, immigrants with any criminal convictions, other than minor misdemeanors, are not allowed to enroll. As of 2012, the Migration Policy institute estimated that 1.76 million of the 11-12 million total illegal immigrants in the U.S. could be protected by DACA – about 16%.
DACA was a major breakthrough for millions of immigrants who are not U.S. citizens, but have never known any other country or culture because they were too young to remember the country they left. For as long as they can remember, these young people have lived in the U.S., yet they are not allowed to obtain driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or any federal government benefits. Any time they are pulled over or interact with police, there is a risk of deportation. DACA does not instantly make all these immigrants citizens, but it does grant temporary legal status that can be renewed as long as the program is in place, and prevents deportations. There is also a path to citizenship over the longer term.
DACA allows recipients to contribute more to the economy than they normally would be able to if not for the protections it provides. Dreamers pay taxes just like citizens (actually almost all undocumented immigrants pay taxes–they just don’t collect many of the benefits), and they also have the ability to apply for student loans and pursue higher education. Working legally, as opposed to being employed illegally and under the table, ensures that they are paid fairly and not being exploited.
However, DACA was created by an executive order, and not approved by the Congress that failed to come to any agreement on immigration reform, or any bipartisan group. Courts have upheld its legality (though an effort to expand it was rejected as unconstitutional), but as with many of President Obama’s executive orders, it is on thin ice. President Trump initially seemed to want Congress to pass a similar program into law, ending DACA’s status as a controversial executive order; on September 5, he tweeted, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!” He also promised multiple times to show “great heart” when dealing with immigration issues such as DACA.
The Trump administration was not able to end DACA on the terms it wanted, as a San Francisco-based 9th District Court judge partially blocked the recission of the program, and the government was forced to resume accepting applications for two-year renewals of Dreamers’ DACA benefits. However, no new applications are being accepted, and the ruling that blocks the repeal of DACA is only temporary. After the ruling, Trump fumed on Twitter that the court ruling was biased, calling the court system “broken and unfair.” Many other Republicans have suggested that, since the San Francisco court is often used by liberals suing the current administration, it may be more likely to rule in their favor than other courts.
The reasons for ending DACA are mixed – there is far more at play than a simple like or dislike of the amnesty it provides. Republicans say they have a duty to rescind the program – as it may have been an executive overreach – and pass a similar act through Congress to make it fully legal. Throughout Trump’s presidential campaign, he promised to rescind the program, calling it unconstitutional.
Another reason for the September rescission is more political – going into the budget negotiations, Republicans wanted to have a bargaining chip that would allow them to get a more favorable deal on certain issues when working with Democrats. DACA was the perfect such program – extremely important to Democrats, and already on shaky legal footing. As Trump tweeted, funding for the promised border wall would have to be approved before Republicans would consider ‘legalizing’ DACA. Otherwise, the program would be allowed to expire and the Dreamers would once again be at risk for deportation. By making its fate uncertain, Republicans were able to get Democrats to vote for a temporary measure that funded the government through February 8th in exchange for a promise to address the fate of recipients before DACA ends on March 5th.
It wasn’t an easy deal; Democrats shut down the government for three days, refusing to authorize the budget that Republicans had put forth. Many Democrats are still mad that the Democratic party voted to end the shutdown, seeing a promise to address DACA as insufficient. California senator Kamala Harris bashed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who made the promise, as untrustworthy. Harris was one of several Democratic senators and representatives who voted against the temporary funding deal.
DACA’s fate has in no way been sealed, and the promise to address it after a bipartisan commission failed to make any progress will likely lead to some extremely contentious politics in the coming months. Public support for some kind of fix that would protect Dreamers is high, as a CBS news poll found that 87% of Americans support allowing them to stay in the U.S. legally.
At LVHS, the results of our survey showed even more support for DACA. Only 2 respondents (5%) said that ‘some or all’ of the DACA recipients should be deported. 95% said that the program should be kept in a form that protects Dreamers.
LVHS’s opinions about immigration in general were just as liberal – 59% said that undocumented immigrants make a positive contribution to society, and the remaining 41% said that their contribution is neutral. Not a single student responded that undocumented immigrants have a negative impact on society. 90% said that undocumented immigrants with violent criminal convictions should be deported, but only 13% said that undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions should be deported. Only one respondent (2%) said that parents with children who are U.S. citizens should ever be deported.
“People are coming to this country looking for better lives, but once they are getting here we aren’t welcoming them with open arms like we should… We are supposed to be living in a free country, but lately it’s been feeling less and less like that,” explained one respondent who said that Dreamers should be allowed to stay.
“If they are already in the U.S. then I don’t think that it is fair for them to be sent back to their country because they might just be looking for a better life,” said another respondent.
One of two respondents who said that DACA should be repealed, and some or all recipients deported, supported deportations of most groups of undocumented immigrants but noted, “Why must we take sides on this issue?… This survey is a measure of one’s opinion of themselves.”
Since so few Americans support deporting DACA recipients, it’s likely that some bipartisan solution will be reached. Even if none is, Congress can decide to temporarily decide to reauthorize the program for weeks or months, as they did with the budget to end the federal shutdown. Although it is, as ever, unclear what President Trump truly wants, he has said that he wants to keep DACA recipients from being deported. However, a White House internal memo recently said that Dreamers should prepare for their departure from the U.S. once their two-year temporary legal statuses expire – a much less rosy picture than the White House has publicly painted of Dreamers’ future.
Deporting Dreamers would certainly excite some of the Republican base, particularly the traditional immigration hawks and the neo-Nazi crowd, but a surprising number of Republicans want Dreamers to stay – 79% (according to the same CBS News poll) said that illegal immigrants who came as children should be allowed to stay, which is exactly what DACA does. If Congress addresses the fate of Dreamers as promised, a solution will probably take shape which allows them to stay simply because so many people support it. As President Trump once said, Dreamers should “rest easy.”