Now that Congress has returned from its August recess, it should have one priority: to fix the immigration program that granted legal status to young immigrants, which was rescinded by the Trump administration Tuesday. Officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program allowed some young undocumented immigrants who came to America as children to avoid deportation and to work and attend college unimpeded by their immigration status.
The administration announced it was ending the program, but with a six-month delay to give Congress time to act. Although the administration is passing the buck, Congress must accept responsibility and act quickly to craft a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 800,000 people living in America who will be harmed if the law change becomes permanent. In Maine, 544 people have applied for DACA, with 429 approved as of March 31.
All four members of Maine’s delegation say they support congressional action to protect DACA recipients. Bills to do this have been introduced in the House and Senate.
Trump has talked tough about immigration since he became a candidate for the presidency. He frequently ties immigrants who are in the country illegally to crime, a link that is refuted by statistics. He has pledged to have the U.S. government rid the country of “bad hombres.”
The young people who now fear deportation don’t fall into the easy but false narrative of bad or dangerous immigrants that Trump and his surrogates conjure up.
DACA, an imperfect solution the Obama administration crafted through executive action as Congress has repeatedly failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, is quite prescriptive. Those protected had to have arrived in the United States before 2007. They had to be younger than 16 when they arrived and younger than 31 when DACA went into effect in 2012.
The average person eligible for DACA arrived in the U.S. at the age of six and has been here for 20 years. Many had no idea they were born in distant countries to which they have never returned. They are not eligible for most economic support programs, such as food stamps or Medicaid. They are not U.S. citizens or even permanent legal residents, and they have no shortcut to citizenship. However, DACA, which offers renewable work permits, allowed them to more fully participate in American life — including its universities and workforce.
Ninety-seven percent of DACA recipients are employed or enrolled in higher education. This is good for the U.S. and its economy. In announcing the Trump administration’s policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed DACA recipients for denying “jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
This claim is not borne out by evidence. Without immigrants, the U.S. workforce would shrink by more than 10 percent by 2035. This isn’t only bad for U.S. companies, which would not be able to fill jobs, but also for the sustainability of government services.
Further, immigrants and Americans workers often fill complementary jobs that allow businesses to expand and hire more workers. The Hamilton Project gives the example of immigrants working on farms so farmers can develop new products or as laborers so contractors can build more homes.
So, if it is not about jobs or safety, rescinding DACA is just about scoring political points with the anti-immigration wing of the Republican Party, which is just cruel. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sums it up well: “Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country,” the conference said in a statement. “Today’s actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future.”
To restore mercy and good will, and reason, to the U.S.’s immigration policies, Congress must quickly pass legislation to formalize DACA to help nearly a million young people stay in the country they know as home.