Some 800,000 people living in the United States without legal permission since childhood shared one must-have item on their Christmas list — a gift from Congress in the form of legislation that would grant them permission to continue to live, study and work in the country in which they were raised. Instead, in yet another display of cruel indifference to the human consequences of their actions (or, in this case, inactions), Congress is heading home until early next year without addressing the fate of the so-called Dreamers.
Unfortunately, as Congress dilly-dallies, people are losing protections under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And losing that DACA status means they can’t legally continue in the jobs they hold, and can be swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and sent into deportation proceedings.
There is no defensible reason for Congress’s failure to fix this problem, which President Trump created in September when he abruptly announced that the government would accept no new DACA applications as of Sept. 5, and that none of the two-year deferrals that expired after March 5, 2018, would be renewed. Those whose protections ended before March 5 could apply for a renewal by Oct. 5 — a month after the announcement.
But there were several problems with Trump’s act of cruelty. The government didn’t notify recipients of the October deadline, leaving advocates to scramble to find folks and help them apply. Many who did know about the deadline had trouble in that short window of time rounding up the required documents and $495 fee. Thousands of applications that were mailed well before the deadline arrived late because of problems with the mail delivery, eventually landing some in ICE detention. (Some folks reportedly opted not to seek renewal after Trump’s election to avoid giving the government updated information on where to find them.)
All of this drama was entirely unnecessary, and ending DACA protections works against public interest by needlessly disrupting families and communities. But Congress has for years lacked the will to do the right thing. Even most Republicans view Dreamers differently from how they view other people living in the country illegally. These are folks who were brought here by their parents, and in many cases did not know they lacked legal status until they tried to apply for a job or took other steps that required proof of citizenship or legal status, or a Social Security number.
These are people who have been raised in the United States, educated in the United States, and who are Americans in spirit and outlook, if not in the eyes of immigration law. It would be foolish and self-defeating to kick them out now. Many have children who are citizens; many own businesses; many are in professions such as health and law. What reason other than spite is there to expose them to deportation?
The original Dream Act, and varying incarnations that have been introduced in Congress year after year, would have made this issue moot by giving Dreamers — who have stayed out of serious legal trouble and met other criteria — legal status and a path to the citizenship they have earned. Seeing no path through Congress, Obama created the deferral program to protect the Dreamers until Congress finally came to its senses.