President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily protects from deportation close to 800,000 young immigrants – known as Dreamers – brought to this country as children, marks a point of demarcation for the United States. How Congress, and the Trump administration resolve this issue will depend on whether fair-minded Americans stand up for these impressive young people in the months ahead. Conversely, if the Dreamers are not afforded an opportunity to become full members of US society, it will make a mockery of the values – fairness, opportunity, and freedom – that have made our nation great.
The case for allowing the Dreamers to remain and flourish – as the bi-partisan DREAM Act would ensure – is overwhelming. According to a study from the Center for Migration Studies, 85 percent have lived here 10 years or longer, 89 percent have gainful employment, 93 percent have graduated high school, and 91 percent speak English well or very well.
Their economic contributions – and the adverse economic impacts ending DACA would cause – are well-documented. The libertarian CATO Institute found that deporting the Dreamers would reduce economic growth by $280 billion, while a study by the high-tech business-led FWD.us found that US economic output would be reduced by $460 billion over ten years. The deportation of this group would also have an impact on the federal government’s bottom line, with the loss of billions of dollars in tax revenue and an estimated loss of $24.6 billion in Medicare and Social Security revenue over 10 years. This does not include the cost of the detention and deportation of these young adults, which would reach into the tens of millions.
But the essence of the argument for legalizing these young Americans is not economic, but moral. The Dreamers came to the United States with their parents as children, with no intent to break the law. They are law-abiding – those who commit a criminal offense can lose their status – and many are leaders in their communities or chosen fields. Removing their status could make some stateless, as many may not have citizenship in the countries of their birth. Deporting them to countries they do not know would be a waste of their hard work, sacrifices, contributions and immense potential for our society. It would not only be a tragedy for them, it would be a great loss to our country.
Supporters of the DACA program, from all walks of life, reacted adversely to the President’s decision. This reaction offers a measure of hope that Congress will find the political will to do what it has failed to do for 16 years and pass the DREAM Act. Hundreds of CEOs and a significant number of Republicans in Congress urged President Trump to keep the DACA program intact. President Barack Obama, the author of the program, called the decision “cruel.” And faith leaders across the nation stood up and made their voices heard.
US Catholic bishops used unusually strong language to condemn the decision. Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago called it “heartless,” while Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark went further, labeling it “malicious.” The leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles among them – called the move “reprehensible.”
Hopefully, Catholic leaders will follow up their words with action, as the Catholic Church not only has a strong moral argument to make, but also an institutional stake in the outcome of this fight. Somehow nativist activists, including some self-identified Catholics, view it as reprehensible that the Church – driven by Gospel imperatives and Catholic teaching – should stand in solidarity with immigrants, many of whom are Catholic. They even have gone so far as to say that the church encourages illegal immigration for economic benefit, despite two-thousand years of teaching that calls upon Catholics and Christians to love their neighbors, regardless of the place of their birth, and to see in immigrants the face of God. Pastors, priests, and the laity need to show the same courage as the Dreamers in speaking out on the issue.
Despite the strong support for DACA and the Dreamers around the nation, the voices of exclusion have won the most recent battle. Opponents of the DACA program – including Attorney General Jeff Sessions – have resorted to half-truths and outright falsehoods to justify ending the program. His claim that rescinding DACA would save American jobs has been strenuously rebutted. In fact, immigrants mostly complement the US workforce, and deporting 800,000 will lead to a loss of jobs, not a surplus. Blaming DACA for the Central American migration crisis also warrants a pinocchio, as the gang violence in the region is the main reason that children are fleeing to the United States – and to Mexico and throughout Central America as well.
And numerous legal scholars – as well as the Department of Justice’s own Office of Legal Counsel in 2014 – have concluded that the President can permissibly use “deferred action” programs, like DACA, to prioritize the removal of certain non-citizens, and not others. The decision to end DACA was made because of an arbitrary and artificial deadline set by ten state attorneys general who threatened to sue the federal government to end the program. The Attorney General invoked the “rule of law” not only in his decision not to defend a program that his own department found to be constitutionally sound, but also to aggressively defend a constitutionally suspect program that the President has described as a “Muslim ban.”
President Trump has claimed that he “loves” the Dreamers. In fact, they are hard-working, ambitious, strongly committed to the only nation they have ever known, and fearless, all qualities the president should admire. The nation should be hiring them, not firing them. But at the very least, the president has bowed to the voices of extremism whispering in his ear. His tweet suggesting he may “revisit” his decision in six months is a sign that he is not “resting easy” over the national uproar over his decision. However, he “revisited” the issue in deciding to terminate the program. In addition, the memorandum issued by DHS acting secretary Elaine Duke on September 5th means as many as 600,000 DACA recipients will lose their status within the six-month “deadline” on March 5, 2018, by the time the President might revisit the issue.
It is also disappointing that the President failed to call on Congress to pass the DREAM Act within six months. He should be actively working with Congress to pass the DREAM Act as a standalone bill. Using the Dreamers as leverage for other draconian measures or legislation – such as the RAISE Act – would be inexcusable and met with fierce opposition, including from the Dreamers. He should heed Senator Lindsay Graham’s (R-SC) call to work with Congress in a transparent and bi-partisan way to get the DREAM Act to his desk – and to sign it.
In the end, the fate of the Dreamers – our coreligionists, neighbors, colleagues, family members, and friends – is not about economics, culture, or political brinksmanship. It is about who we are as a country and the values upon which our nation was built.
There are times that the United States and its elected leaders must act because it is the right thing to do and because we share a common humanity. This is one of them. If the Dreamers are left unprotected, it will leave a black mark on our nation’s character for years to come. If we pursue justice and welcome the Dreamers as full Americans, it could be one of our finest hours.