The president’s self-imposed deadline of March 5 for fixing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) has come and gone. The pressure for this administration and the Congress to come to an agreement disappeared when federal courts put a temporary hold on its dismantling.
But lost protections were not restored as a result of the court interventions, and the nearly 17,000 people who lost DACA protection in 2017 remain at risk of detention and deportation and unable to work lawfully. Since the beginning of the year, an average of 122 additional DACA recipients lose protection every day. This not only brings chaos to the lives of thousands of these Dreamers, but it also brings uncertainty to our American economy.
The vast majority of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients have been educated in the United States, many have professional degrees, have been given work permits and are employed and pay taxes just as other Americans do. But because of their status, they do not have access to many of our other benefits. They are a vibrant and crucial part of our nation’s economic engine that is subsidizing the population decline we have witnessed since the height of the baby boom era.
If the DACA students in our medical and other graduate programs are threatened with deportation, they will not go to Mexico or Central America — those are not their homes. They will emigrate to Canada, Australia, Europe or other developed countries, all of whom will welcome them. That will be our loss, just as it was Germany’s loss when we welcomed hundreds of Jewish scientists during Hitler’s racist reign.
Commonly referred to as "Dreamers," if they continue to lose protection with the revocation of DACA and are denied work permits and protection from deportation, America’s economy will face a tremendous loss in human investment.
And these losses do not include the expense of deporting them. The cost of apprehension, detention, transportation and processing hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients is estimated to cost $10 billion, according to a report from the Brookings Institute — almost double the current budget of Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement.
On Jan. 9, President Donald Trump promised to sign a compromise bill and held a televised meeting to promote his support for the "Dreamers." But two days later, after talking to immigration hardliners in the White House, his demeanor had changed completely when he took his scheduled meeting with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, the co-sponsors of a promising bipartisan bill Trump had vowed to support. Instead of listening to their proposal, he went on the attack.
Since that time, Trump has been insisting on both immigration reform and a border wall as his price to move forward on solving the crisis he created. His four pillars of immigration reform include:
1. Border security. More personnel and “the prompt removal of illegal border-crossers,” prohibition of visa overstays, immigration court reforms and a “big, beautiful wall” for which he now expects Americans, not Mexicans, to pay.
2. Limit family reunification policies (“chain migration”). These policies, which have been in place since the 1965 immigration bill, emphasized family ties as well as skills. Hardliners no longer want immigrants to be able to sponsor parents, siblings or adult children. Where are our family values?
3. End the diversity visa program (“lottery”). The program was a 1980s change to create more diversity in immigration, which at the time allowed more Irish and Italians to come here. These 50,000 people are picked randomly to apply for entry to the U.S. Some in our country do not value diversity and claim they want only skilled immigrants — and fewer of them. Yet many DACA recipients have, or are acquiring, these very skills, and they are threatened with deportation. This defies logic.
4. Legal status for DACA recipients. In exchange for the previous demands, Trump indicates he would include a path to legal status for DACA recipients and hundreds of thousands of others who are eligible for the program.
But there is great difficulty in passing such a comprehensive bill. Congress and the administration should reconsider the compromise bill laboriously hammered out by the bipartisan “Gang of Six” that incorporates many conservative wishes and also includes a proposal to give DACA recipients permanent residency with a specific path to citizenship after 10 years. Concessions to conservatives would include new limits on family/chain migration by giving parents only temporary three-year status; the random diversity visa program would instead allot those 50,000 visas on a merit basis; Additional border security is allotted $1.2 billion, in addition to $1.6 billion originally requested by the president for barrier funding,
With our country’s infrastructure in dire need of an infusion of funds and the treasury further in the red after huge tax cuts, there is little appetite among Americans for sinking $25 billion into a White House “trust fund” for a wall the length of our southern border. Polls last year show that support for his wall has dropped over the past two years from 48 percent to 35 percent, as has support for his policy of increased deportations of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are parents of American citizens (thehill.com). The president created this crisis, and he could end it by supporting the bill that he said he would sign at the first of the year.
Catherine Rhoades lives in Neosho.