By Irina Matiychenko, Director of Immigrant Protection Unit, New York Legal Assistance Group
With the clock running out on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the fate of thousands of immigrants now rests in the hands of Congress. As they debate whether to grant these young people the right to remain in the only home they have ever known, lawmakers would do well to keep in mind that the nation – indeed the world – is watching. DACA Dreamers are citizens in all respects, but for their immigration status. We raised them, imbued them with our values and made them part of our culture and our very future. Most Americans agree that their unique situation calls for a compassionate and forward-looking solution.
French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “You become responsible, forever, for whom you have tamed.” Five years ago, President Obama acknowledged our responsibility to the nation’s Dreamers by issuing an Executive Order to offer a modest piece of the American Dream to children who were brought to this country while very young, were raised here, and long ago lost whatever ties they may have had to the countries of their parents’ origin. At the same time, we took a pragmatic approach. DACA was not a path to citizenship, it was temporary, and applicants had to prove that they deserved the opportunity. In addition to age and continuous residency requirements, DACA applicants were also required to have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and a clean criminal record.
The vast majority of those who applied for DACA benefits were granted temporary status. They have become professionals, they have served in the U.S. military, they have been integrated into American society, and they have contributed to our prosperity.
President Trump has reassured us that he has a great heart. Yet action has not followed those words. In fact, last week the heads of Homeland Security under three previous Administrations implored Congress to act within the next few weeks due to the many complexities involved in finalizing any DACA legislation. If not, it will be too late. The lives of 800,000 DACA recipients and the millions of family members who depend upon them will be thrown into chaos and uncertainty. The many thousands of companies that employ Dreamers will be severely negatively impacted. The consequences for our nation will be devastating -- to our economy, to public safety, to the character of our communities, and to our moral stature around the world.
The United States has been skirting the issue of its undocumented children long enough. Any attempt to deport almost a million law abiding, productive, talented, and accomplished people who once were granted hope to live up to their dreams will not go unchallenged. My colleagues and I will do everything legally possible to help our Dreamers. We are fortunate to live in a country that is governed by the rule of law. DACA recipients cannot be deported without having their day in immigration court and we will do everything in our power to make sure that all 800,000 of them are properly represented.
We will fight back. It is our moral and legal obligation to do so. These are not somebody else’s children, they are our children. Congress must act today.