No one should be surprised that President Trump would seek to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Promising a hard line on immigration issues on the campaign trail, Trump made only the mildest statements of support for the 800,000 Dreamers protected by the program since taking office, promising they could “rest easy,” and that he would show “great heart” in his decision but never giving the program explicit backing.
Since it went into effect five years ago, DACA has afforded 800,000 young immigrants — those who came here as children under the age of 16 with their undocumented parents — temporary relief from deportation. To be eligible, enrollees had to be in high school or have a diploma or a veteran who has served honorably and not have been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor.
This allowed those who have lived nearly all of their lives in the United States to go to college, earn degrees, get driver’s licenses and find good-paying jobs that support their families and add to the strength of the nation’s economy.
Obama created DACA by executive order in 2012 after legislation to protect the Dreamers stalled in Congress. But state attorneys general in Texas and nine other states had recently threatened to challenge the constitutionality of DACA. In response to that threat, the Trump administration announced it would end enrollments and would allow current work permits to expire following their two-year terms, ending the program within six months.
The Trump administration’s decision to end DACA now puts the onus on Congress to pass legislation before March that would provide the same protections as DACA. Bipartisan legislation was introduced earlier in July.
But the crisis and the deadline are manufactured. While there is support for DACA and legislation to protect it among Republicans and Democrats — specifically Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and this region’s Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene — six months is a woefully short timeline for Congress even in the best of situations. A legislative solution would provide a lasting fix, at least until Congress could consider broader immigration reforms, but pushing this off on to Congress now was ill-timed and unnecessary.
And a court challenge is still likely, this time from the other side of the argument. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday, in advance of the DACA announcement, this his office would seek to halt the administration’s efforts to end the program. The New York Attorney General’s Office made a similar announcement. Ferguson, in a statement, said he expected other states to join in the suit.
Meanwhile, state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal, in calling for Congress to act quickly, sent a letter to the state’s school districts urging them to continue their work to serve all children in their districts. Reykdal specifically cited the state constitution — called on most often recently for its education funding mandate — which also sets the state’s paramount duty to serve “all children residing within its borders, without distinction of preference on account or race, color, caste or sex.”
“Our founders clearly used the phrase, ‘all children residing within. …’ We have a moral and legal obligation to serve all children, and that remains our mission,” Reykdal wrote.
This is especially important now for those children entering high school who would have been eligible to enroll in DACA. An estimated 1 million additional children and young adults would have been eligible for DACA, but had not enrolled.
There’s an economic argument to be made to protect the Dreamers. In Washington state alone, an estimated 19,000 are enrolled in DACA and 15,500 of those are employed. Washington state has invested in their public education. Beyond public school, the Legislature’s REAL Hope Act provides access to college to qualified undocumented youths and provided $5 million in financial aid to those students.
And the state is benefiting from that investment as those graduates find work in our communities and fill jobs that employers are eager to fill. A recent study by the Center for American Progress estimates that Washington state stands to lose $1.06 billion each year in GDP with the end of DACA, the eighth-largest loss among the 50 states. The center’s survey estimates that the nation as a whole will lose $433 billion over the next 10 years.
Deporting these children and young adults will instead build the economies of other countries. And we will have paid for it.
But the moral justification for DACA shows an even brighter line.
These are youths and young adults who crossed over into America as children and have no liability for breaking immigration law. They have been raised as Americans and are indistinguishable from their friends who were born here.
They know no other home.
How can we deny them? How can we deny ourselves?