Today, President Donald Trump betrayed basic American values and respect for the human rights of 800,000 young people who grew up in the United States, having been brought to this country at a young age. He turned his back on the vast majority of the U.S. electorate who support the Dreamers to cater to the 15 percent of the electorate who thinks they should be deported from the U.S.
The beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have undergone a stringent process of scrutiny that essentially certified they are honorable, honest, hard-working members of our communities. Young people working and studying to improve themselves and to contribute to improve our country. Yes, they live in the United States even though they have not followed current immigration laws. Largely this is the result of the fact that the decision to move to or remain in the United States in ways that do not follow the legal statute was made by their parents or guardians, not by them. To a certain extent, this is also the result of successive changes in immigration law over the decades which have made it more and more difficult for people to immigrate to the United States if they are not the child, the parent, or the spouse of a citizen. The vast majority of the population who voluntarily became U.S. citizens in the history of this country did so following significantly less stringent and bureaucratic processes to do so than exist today. If these same standards to immigrate had been in place since 1775, most Americans whose ancestors immigrated to this country in the past would not be American citizens today.
President Trump’s decision is misguided on multiple grounds. It will have negative economic consequences for the country, as documented by numerous analysts. It will have negative impact on law enforcement, distracting priorities and resources from areas where they are needed to focusing on youth who have done no harm and who have now been criminalized by a reckless decision. It will create divisions within parties and between levels and branches of government. It will diminish trust in government. And, it will embolden the very small number of bigots who hold extremist views about who belongs in America, the very same people who three weeks ago paraded chanting nazi slogans in Charlottesville.
Given the pain and suffering President Trump’s decision has just inflicted on 800,000 youth and their communities, it is essential to focus on actions of practical consequence, for we have little time to lose over the next six months.
The first actions should secure the well-being of these good young women and men, who in six months will become refugees or criminals subject to deportation as a result of the ill-advised decision President Trump made today. To prevent the criminalization of the Dreamers, Congress will have to pass legislation that regularizes their status. It will take extraordinary leadership, pressure and assistance on Congress to lead this nation on this issue. We should mobilize all means available to us to convey to Congress how much importance we assign to getting approved the bill introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), known as the BRIDGE act, or the bill introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), known as the Dream Act. Any U.S. voter can reach members of Congress and express support for legislation that regularizes the Dreamers. This website can help identify your representatives.
We should reach out, convey our support for Dreamers, and urge our friends to do the same. Organizations of civil society could contribute to the transparency of the ongoing conversations in Congress by systematically monitoring the positions of each member of Congress on this issue, and making this information available, in real time, to the electorate, helping voters gain access to a full picture of the positions of members of Congress and of those who challenge them. The New York Times and Propublica have done a great public service creating an interactive database recording members of Congress bills and votes on any issue, including immigration. This good work could be enhanced integrating multiple data sources to obtain a complete profile of each lawmakers record with regard to DACA over the next six months. Such an integrated database could, for example, make visible that a GOP lawmaker who expressed satisfaction with the fact that the repeal of DACA would force The Dreamers to ‘live in the shadows’, reportedly had his opponent in the forthcoming Congressional election withdraw because of death threats. The database would show that this lawmaker appears to be an admirer of and has great popularity with white supremacist groups. Making such information readily available to those who will vote in the next congressional election, along with full access to information on the alternative candidates, their positions and how to support their campaigns, would support the critical informed political participation which the gravity of this moment demands.
There will be some who argue that this presidential decision betrays a promise made by the U.S. government to the Dreamers, the promise that if they came forth, and registered with our government agencies, provided their identification and residence details they would have a path to legalization. As this information, provided voluntarily by the Dreamers, could now be used to deport them, this could be seen as reneging on a government promise. A government that cannot be trusted to keep its promises loses the recognition of legitimacy that is essential to govern.
It is likely that there will be litigation in the coming months, challenging this presidential decision.
Failure of Congress to expeditiously find legal remedy to this situation, and the controversy over the legality and ethics of the decision, might lead some to pursue options that will impact the necessary trust in government and between levels and branches of government to govern effectively. Protracted debate over this issue without reaching consensus will likely exacerbate the existing polarization in Congress, which will further hamper governance.
Failure to reach a legal resolution may cause other levels of government, or institutions, to ignore legislation. For instance, Universities, cities and states, might chose to ignore the lack legal protection to Dreamers, and to not cooperate with immigration enforcement agencies. Employers might similarly ignore legislation, providing employment opportunities to the Dreamers. Ordinary citizens might exercise the option of providing safe haven to these youth.
Exercising those three options would amount to civil disobedience of a presidential decision that most Americans consider unfair and would erode the basic trust and respect for the legitimacy of government on which the functioning of democracy depends in significant ways. This would not, however, be the first time in history when people’s moral compass recognizes that ethical actions require ignoring laws that are immoral.
I very much hope the United States does not lose the Dreamers. This would be a tragedy of incalculable consequences ― economic, political and moral. Separating them from this country which they know as their home would tear families and communities apart. We will all lose knowing that we sent 800,000 young people into exile because we lacked the courage and the intelligence to do the right and the smart thing to do, and to stand up to the 15 percent of the voters who hold extremely bigoted views. If we cave in to these extremists now, who knows what next battle for freedom and equality, for democracy itself, we will have to battle.
We should each do what is within our power to get Congress to do the only right thing to do in finding a quick legal remedy to authorize the Dreamers to continue to work hard to improve themselves and to improve this country which they know and love as their home, and which needs them.