On DACA: We Have An Obligation to Protect the Innocent

On September 5, Attorney General Jess Sessions announced that the federal government would put an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Both Sessions and President Trump insist that the program is an illegal overreach of the Executive Branch and, therefore, unconstitutional. As a matter of Constitutional law, then, they are obliged to end the program. The end of the program is scheduled for March, 2018, and Trump has called on Congress to use the next six months to pass a law that will protect from deportation the over 800,000 immigrants formerly protected by DACA.

DACA was put in place by President Obama in 2012 after Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. His motives were to protect from deportation those who had been brought to the United States as children when their parents entered illegally. These immigrants, called “dreamers,” could apply for a two year deferment of deportation and apply also for work permits. Some states allowed them to obtain driver’s licenses and, in some circumstances, money for college.

Obama attempted to expand the program to protect the parents of these immigrants with the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DAPA was challenged by several states and struck down by the courts as an example of Executive Branch overreach. When the Supreme Court considered DAPA, they voted 4-4, leaving the decision of the courts blocking DAPA in place.

Several states, including Tennessee, had filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, demanding that DACA be rescinded, as well. These states claim that DACA, like DAPA, represents an illegal act on the part of President Obama to create immigration law, which is the purview of Congress. These states vowed to end their lawsuit if Trump ended the program, which he promised to do on the 2016 campaign trail. Had Trump failed to act, and the lawsuit continued, it’s likely that the courts would have struck down DACA, putting these immigrants at immediate risk of deportation. As it is, those immigrants who have already received another two year extension are at no risk of being deported anytime soon. Others have until early October to file for an extension. Those who fail to file, or who are not eligible to file, have until early March to remain in the country. The Department of Homeland Security has recommended that these immigrants use these six months to prepare to depart the United States.

But, where will they go? These immigrants, regardless of their illegal status, were brought to the United States as children, the great majority arriving under the age of ten. It’s ridiculous to claim that they have any other country to return to. For all practical purposes, this is the only country they know. English, for many, is the only language they speak. They have no ties to any other country.

My friend, Tanya Belanger, says that this is a pro-life issue, and she’s right. These children did nothing to contribute to their status as illegal immigrants, just as children in the womb did nothing to contribute to their conception. In both cases, the status of these children is entirely the result of decisions made by adults, by their parents. How is it that we can punish them for the decisions made by their parents? In my mind, legislators who call themselves “pro-life” but cannot see a way to protect these innocents are not being true to pro-life principles and are just as hypocritical as those who demand that laws be put in place to protect these innocents but demand that the “right” to abortion be enshrined in our laws. Trump has come under withering criticism from immigration groups and churches, including the Catholic bishops, for his decision to end DACA. Protests have sprouted up all over the country opposing Trump’s decision. Also, just as conservative states had filed a lawsuit against Trump for not ending the program, now liberal states are planning to sue Trump for ending it, even intending to use Trump’s campaign statements about Mexicans as evidence that his decision to end DACA was motivated by racism.

It is imperative that Congress act to protect these immigrants, and act soon.

How confident am I that Congress will pass a law protecting these immigrants? Frankly, not very. The last immigration reform law Congress could manage to pass was in 1986, over thirty years ago! Congress today is far more polarized than it was back then, with Democrats and Republicans growing increasingly farther apart on important issues, and too many individual members of both parties increasingly less interested in serving the American people than in serving their own ambitions. Conservative Republicans who ran on an anti-illegal immigration position are unwilling to discern the difference between adults who came illegally to the U. S. by their own choice and the children they brought with them, who had no choice in the matter. These Republicans are unlikely to vote for protecting immigrants they simply see as illegals, regardless of the reason they’re here and regardless of the fact that these immigrants are making powerfully positive contributions to our economy and our communities. Furthermore, a Washington Post article points out that only about 10% of Republican districts have 20% or higher levels of Hispanic voters, who are largely in favor of immigration-friendly legislation. So, the Hispanic community has little sway on Republican Congressmen. For their part, Democrats treat the immigration issue like many Republicans treat the pro-life issue: as a way to get support from sympathetic voters without actually doing much on the issue itself. Republicans rightly point out that the Democrats weren’t terribly interested in acting on immigration reform when they had the White House and a majority in both houses of Congress. Many Dems will doubtless reason that immigration reform serves them better as a wedge issue, and any resolution of DACA will rob them of a potential campaign issue with which they can hammer Republicans and beseech the votes of immigration-friendly Americans. They will come up with all kinds of excuses for why they can’t vote for the Republican plan to protect these immigrants, just as Republicans at the federal level so often create excuses for not acting on pro-life issues. (To their credit, Republican legislators do much better on pro-life issues at the state level). Am I too cynical? I hope so. It remains to be seen.

For his part, Trump has announced that he will “re-visit” DACA if Congress fails to make the program, or a similar one, legal over the next six months.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

2 thoughts on “On DACA: We Have An Obligation to Protect the Innocent

  1. I agree that these young people need to be legally permitted to stay, but DACA is not legal, but rather a presidential overreach of power. It is the job of congress to make laws. So as Catholics, we should be lobbying our representatives to make the law – and to get it passed as quickly as possible.

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