It would be coldhearted indeed if President Trump were to end the Obama administration’s policy of not deporting immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children.
Yes, illegal immigration is a problem; yes, the United States has the right to control who comes in and out of the country; yes, there are people in the U.S. who ought to be deported. But telling people who were raised here and educated here (thanks to decisions made by their elders) and whose dreams are rooted here that that they are no longer welcome — well, that would be an inhumane act. These people, many now adults, should not be forced to pay the price for the choices of their parents.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which Trump is considering killing, according to White House leaks — was designed to give stability to people whose undocumented status is no fault of their own. Some arrived here as newborns or toddlers, and in many cases didn’t even realize they had no legal status until they needed a Social Security number for a job or documentation to prove their eligibility for their first driver’s license. Others have known from a young age, and have learned to live as quasi-fugitives, afraid to be questioned by police or, even worse, by ICE agents. Since Obama created the program by executive action in August 2012, roughly 750,000 people have received deferments that allow them to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. (The deferments do not grant citizenship or legal residency.) By what calculation is it in the best interest of the country to eliminate their deferments and make them eligible for deportation?
Despite the assertions of many of Trump’s supporters, DACA is not an amnesty program (because it offers no permanent relief). It allows some breathing room for people caught up in circumstances not of their own making until Congress can figure out a humane reboot of the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system. To receive DACA protection, applicants must be enrolled in or have graduated from high school or college, or have been honorably discharged from the armed services; they must have been under age 31 as of June 15, 2012, and have arrived in the U.S. before turning age 16; and they must have no significant criminal conviction and not be a member of a gang, among other criteria. Those are reasonable safeguards that help ensure that deferments don’t go to people who threaten public safety or national security.
Trump, who has wavered on the issue, still has a choice. He can show compassion for deserving people who have in many cases lived most of their lives among us. Or he can follow the darker impulses of some of his supporters, and shatter the dreams of hundreds of thousands of people who have done us no harm, and who could do us much good.