Enacted: June 15, 2012
Number of “Dreamers” in U.S.: 886,814 registered from an estimated population of 1.4 million eligible
Percentage of “Dreamers” incarcerated: 0.98 percent in 2015
Percent of native-born Americans incarcerated: 1.12 percent
Percent of non-DACA illegal immigrants incarcerated: 0.38 percent
Percentage of legal immigrants incarcerated: 0.24 percent
Source: Cato Institute research
There are occasions, if somewhat rare, in our public discourse in which two seemingly contradictory ideas on opposite side of the ideological divide can both ring true.
Such is the case this week in the discussion over the legal status of young immigrants brought here as children.
On the one side is this argument: The children of illegal immigrants in the U.S., some 800,000 nationwide, had no choice in their arrival and have built their lives, education and careers in the only country they have known. They speak English, they identify as Americans and many have made few, if any, trips to their native lands. They deserve a chance to stay here, for their sake and the nation’s, because they make the U.S. a better place.
On the other: The program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals instituted by the Obama administration in 2012 was not a final solution to settle the status of young immigrants, which should instead be addressed through permanent, binding legislation.
These ideas are not mutually exclusive despite the heated rhetoric now attached to the debate. And if we accept them as both true, it lights a clear path toward resolving it.
The decision to end DACA in six months announced this week by the Justice Department puts the ball in Congress’ court, which is where it should have been to start with. The original bill to address the issue was known as the DREAM Act when it was introduced in 2001, but it failed to pass then and in other occasions when resurrected. For this reason, many of these young immigrants are still referred to as “dreamers.”
Because of this inaction or unwillingness by Congress to address the problem through legislation, President Barack Obama created DACA as a directive to avoid targeting these immigrants for deportation. It was hailed then and now as a saving grace for those fearing their futures in the U.S.
But we said even then that while the intent to help these young people is desirable, the execution led to what we see now: a withdrawal of the program that again puts them in limbo and has fired up lawsuits on all sides. It’s not enough to merely defer action on their status; what they need is a long-term answer. And that can only come from Congress, not from the courts or the White House.
We understand frustration from Obama and others with the legislative branch’s inability to accomplish much of anything, something his predecessors and successor share in common. There are any number of reasons for this we won’t get into now (gerrymandering, partisanship, political ambitions outweighing public service, etc.), but it doesn’t mean the Constitution can be forgotten and the process of law circumvented to create the desired results.
If laws don’t meet expectations, change them, don’t ignore them. The ends can’t justify the means; the government’s structure needs to be followed. So unless the Founding Fathers can be resurrected to rework the Constitution, Congress must play its role by creating laws.
This isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue; presidents of each party have sought the same workarounds through executive action, and both parties have had their chance to lead the legislative process. Nevertheless, the federal government consists of three branches, and each must do its part without another choosing to replace it.
The DACA move creates uneasiness for many, but it’s also an opportunity. A permanent solution along the lines of the former DREAM Act could put to rest for good the chance young people raised and assimilated as Americans might be deported through no fault of their own. A law passed by Congress and signed by the president would end their worries and take the issue out of the courts and beyond the political tumult of the moment.
As part of this discussion, Congress can begin to address the other pillars of the immigration structure that need shoring up: border security, be it a wall or high-tech options, to discourage risky crossings; a streamlined and effective guest worker program to allow law-abiding, taxpaying immigrants to fill jobs where they are needed; and a legal immigration process that rewards those who follow the proper procedures and enhance the economy. Each enacted together or in part could lead us toward a humane, effective and legal immigration system that will save and respect lives.
In Congress, the ideologues on both extremes have undermined efforts toward sensible compromise. On one side are xenophobes who, whether they admit it or not, don’t want people from other countries diluting “American culture,” seemingly ignoring how that culture was created by immigrants over three-plus centuries. On the other side are labor interests trying to limit the supply of cheap workers, along with the open borders crowd who live in a fantasy utopia that ignores the reality of national interests.
If somehow leaders in Washington could get the loudest voices to shut up and sit down, reasonable minds can carve out a plan that would fix a broken system while supporting the rule of law.
Is that a pipe dream? Maybe. But if this nation is going to function at any level, it must be within the processes laid out in the Constitution. That means Congress needs to act. The hope is that Republicans in control of both chambers will seek to do what’s right, not just what’s popular with their base, though they might also consider such a move in their long-term interest if they ever want to attract Latino voters.
Most of the “dreamers” living among us are good, lawful, hardworking people. They love their adopted country, and their country should love them back. This time, though, it needs to be done the right way, and for good.
Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.