Five years ago, President Barack Obama created a program that gave the children of undocumented workers in America a path out of the shadows — a way to attend college, work and move forward with their lives without fear of being deported. Granted the reprieve came in two-year renewable increments, but it was a measure of hope for young people whose only crime was to be carried to the United States as small children without a green card.
By any measure, the program, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has been a success. Of the roughly 800,000 individuals who have taken advantage of DACA, an estimated 65 percent are in college and more than 90 percent are gainfully employed, many with Fortune 500 companies.
But President Donald Trump has cast these individuals back behind a wall of fear and uncertainty with his decision, announced Tuesday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a DACA opponent, to rescind the program after a six-month delay.
Sessions said the delay was intended to give Congress, “should it so choose,” time to come up with a replacement plan. But given the polarization of Washington leaders, this amounts to yet another shameless attempt by the White House to torpedo a popular Obama-era program while leaving Congress to take the blame if it can’t craft a lifeboat.
The response from elected leaders in California, home to roughly 29 percent of the nation’s DACA-eligible population, has been swift and blistering. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, condemned the decision for “creating fear and confusion” about DACA recipients. “They are our neighbors, colleagues, soldiers, educators, engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs,” he said. “They are as much a part of our communities and collective American story as any one of us.”
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, called it “a cruel, broken promise that will harm hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.”
It’s hard to disagree with them.
Trump’s move may have support from his dwindling ultra-conservative base, but it doesn’t have the support of most Americans. An NBC-Survey Monkey poll released last week found that 64 percent of Americans support DACA, including 41 percent of Republicans.
Critics of DACA claim that Obama’s executive order was an overreach of presidential authority, one that allowed undocumented workers to take jobs from legal residents. But there’s little-to-no evidence to support the latter and no legal decision to validate the former. In fact, DACA was the simplest and most defensible of steps taken in years to address the nation’s complex immigration issues and, specifically, to come up with a humanitarian way of creating a future of some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now living and working in the United States. Starting with those who arrived as children was the most obvious course.
What makes this decision all the more insidious is that it leaves DACA recipients, many of whom are in college at places like Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, more vulnerable than ever. All DACA beneficiaries were vetted before being accepted into the program, meaning federal authorities have their names, addresses and other key information. Trump administration officials say they have no plans to target so-called “Dreamers” for deportation. But DACA beneficiaries can be forgiven if they are untrusting. After all, this is a president who earlier this year promised to deal with DACA recipients “with heart.”