Congress, you’re up.
As expected, President Trump has ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program put in place by Barack Obama through executive action. No surprise there; Trump had promised to end DACA during the campaign, even though he had teased the so-called Dreamers with assurances that they need not worry. His exact words: “I love these kids.”
Under DACA, undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, who came to the U.S. before they were 16 years old and have remained here continuously since, can apply to remain for two years without fear of deportation – and can apply to renew that “deferred action” status. They are also eligible to secure work permits.
To qualify, an immigrant has to be in school, have graduated from high school, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States. An applicant also has to pass a background check to show he or she has not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors – and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety. In short, they have to meet requirements that would exclude a lot of us citizens.
Protected from deportation
Today, there are roughly 800,000 young people who are protected from deportation under DACA.
Let’s be clear – and fair. While I strongly support and agree with the intent of DACA, reasonable people can disagree about the constitutionality of President Obama’s implementing it without congressional authorization. Numerous state attorneys general had threatened to sue if Trump didn’t end the program, and they may have had a case.
As Governor of New Mexico, I was not timid about pushing the limits of executive authority, especially when the legislature refused to act. That’s the way the system works, and some of my actions ended up in court. I don’t blame President Obama for acting, but it’s fair to question the constitutionality of DACA.
And while I disagree with ending the program, President Trump did something important with his DACA decision: He delayed its implementation for six months.
In other words, he tossed the ball to Congress – and gave them a deadline to prevent the heartbreaking, and I believe un-American, images of young immigrants who have done nothing wrong being sent back to “homes” that aren’t really home.
Congress needs courage to do the right thing
The problem of children being brought here or sent here without documentation isn’t new. There have been legislative proposals to provide them with some degree of legal status for well over a decade. But as with virtually everything else related to our broken immigration system, Congress has failed to do anything. The political courage to do the right, but controversial, thing has been typically and irresponsibly absent.
This is actually not difficult. We are talking about young people and children who ended up in the United States without documents through no fault of their own. They are being educated in our schools, or have already graduated. In many cases, they have served in our military. They speak English. And the U.S. IS their home, for all practical purposes.
They deserve the opportunity to stay. Frankly, as a nation, we have an investment in them, and can only benefit if they are granted the clear legal opportunity to remain here and put their educations, skills and ambitions to work.
Congress has failed with health care. They have failed with the budget. In fact, it’s difficult to identify anything significant Congress has done lately… other than fail.
Whether it was the right thing to do or not, President Trump has put the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants squarely in the hands of Congress. Leaders such as the Speaker of the House have stated that they don’t believe these children and young adults should be deported. Let’s see if they mean it.
So Congress… Now’s your chance to actually do something right.
(Protesters demonstrate to demand immigration reform in front of the White House on August 30, 2017, in an effort Organized by The Franciscan Action Network, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Church World Service and Sisters of Mercy and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium. The rally began seven days of prayer and fasting to demand the Trump Administration protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)