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No human being is illegal: The US’s DACA shame


After saying that ‘they shouldn’t be very worried,’ Donald Trump delivered a blow to people living in the United States under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy from the Obama era that he announced would be rolled back with just a six month lead time. 790,000 people are facing deportation from the United States thanks to the policy change, and the administration is being spinning up lies and racist dogwhistles in order to justify the change to the US public.

Nothing can justify this incredibly racist and cruel act, one that adds further evidence to the argument that the United States is preparing for a return to extremely isolationist tactics. A president who wants to dissolve treaty obligations, bar entrance to Muslim immigrants, and build a wall between the US and Mexico is not one who cares about engaging with the international community. Trump’s policies are instead suggesting that the United States should go it alone — at a time when the globe is more interdependent than ever before.

It’s clear that the Trump Administration needs to be educated about a few components of DACA, and perhaps the same holds true for some members of the public. So let’s dive in, shall we?

1. What is DACA?

Under DACA, people who entered the United States as minors without adequate immigration documentation may receive a two-year deferment from deportation, allowing them to come out of the shadows to work, get drivers’ licenses, and attend college — with the possibility of extension. It did not create a path to residency or citizenship. This opportunity is only open to those who meet stringent standards. These include being under 16 at the time of their entry, with a history of continuous residence in the United States since June 2007 and no history of criminal convictions. Furthermore, applicants need to be in school, or have honorable discharges from the armed forces.

The application process was challenging, and while Trump was vague about the fate of those with DACA protections during the campaign, his anti-immigrant rhetoric certainly provided clues. The illegal detention of several DACA recipients earlier this year also made it clear that the federal government had plans to end the program.

2. Is it unconstitutional?

No. The Trump Administration claims that the program was ‘overreach’ by the executive branch, referencing a common meme among conservatives who were infuriated by President Obama’s use of executive orders to accomplish conduct of business. Yet there’s no evidence to support the argument that Obama’s executive action went beyond the bounds of constitutional powers — the executive branch has considerable leeway when it comes to make policy decisions like these.

Trump, for example, has used executive orders extensively to accomplish his own policy priorities. Notably, he’s also been targeted by suits claiming his action overstep the constitution; the so-called ‘Muslim ban,’ for example, was successfully challenged in court. The Obama Administration, however, took painstaking care with executive orders, crafting them through careful consultation with legal experts to confirm that they behaved appropriately.

3. Why are DACA recipients so scared?

One frightening aspect of DACA was that in order to apply for protections, people had to submit a tremendous amount of personal information to immigration authorities. That kind of information could be turned into a registry used to deport DACA recipients, as it provides detailed data about people known to be living in the United States without immigration documentation, making it easy to round up large numbers of young people. Many of these individuals have deep ties in the United States, including relationships with families and communities, and in some cases, they have little to no memory of their homelands.

DACA-driven deportations would tear families apart and send people ‘home’ to nations that are unfamiliar. Some immigrants could be vulnerable to persecution as well, if they end up returning to nations where transphobic and homophobic stigma, policies targeting minority ethnic groups, and inadequate health care could threaten their wellbeing. In Mexico, for example, murders of transgender women are a serious issue and a dangerous one for trans women forced to return to a nation they left as children.

4. Are immigrants really a threat to security?

No. In fact, repeated research demonstrates that immigrants to the United States are less likely to commit crimes. Immigrant communities tend, statistically, to be safer overall, while so-called sanctuary cities provide even more cover, ensuring that immigrants feel comfortable reporting crimes and participating in investigations. When undocumented immigrants are able to work with law enforcement to identify and resolve community safety problems, everyone wins.

They also contribute to the United States’ economic security and wellbeing. Researchers have found that terminating DACA could cost billions of dollars and lead to widespread job loss and economic turmoil, not least because when work authorisations granted under DACA expire, employers will be scrambling to fill positions. It’s challenging to calculate the total that immigrants have contributed to the US economy, and the ripple effect of this policy decision could have unexpected results.

5. Can Congress save DACA?

Yes. Congress could pass the DREAM Act, a piece of proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship to qualified immigrants. In the short term, the BRIDGE Act would provide a temporary extension of DACA protections. Notably, support for DACA is bipartisan in nature, with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan saying he wants to work on a solution, while the BRIDGE Act was introduced by Colorado Republican Mike Coffman. Many conservative in Congress recognise the value of immigrants.

Should Congress successfully pass a bill — which would require agreement in the House and Senate — the president could still veto it, but Congress could attempt a veto override. The success of such an override depends on the final form of the bill, but also on pressure from constituents, who can press their representatives to support both acts of legislation.

As the United States moves to defend people protected under DACA and support immigrant communities, though, it’s important to note that this policy only applied to a very narrow range of immigrants. Everyone who wishes to enter the United States to live, work, and spend time with their families should be able to do so, regardless of whether they adhere to strict behavioural standards. In conversation about this issue, we must acknowledge that expecting ‘model minority’ behaviour from immigrants suppresses diversity and endangers all immigrants, including those who are living in the US legally, but under sufferance from a government that can revoke their status at any time. A more open, inclusive immigration policy benefits everyone — including businessmen who rely heavily on undocumented labour to prop up their empires.

Photo: Ms. Phoenix/Creative Commons