Okay America, if you want the "Dreamers," now you're going to have to prove it.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement Tuesday morning that the Trump administration is ending President Obama's executive order that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that was meant to add protections from deportation for the hundreds of thousands of people who entered the United States illegally as children. Sessions clarified that the existing rules will stay in place for six months to give Congress a chance to pass new laws that would hold up in the courts. President Donald Trump later added that if Congress doesn't find a way to pass a legal version of DACA, he will look into it again:
But putting this on Congress is the key to this entire process. That pesky Constitution reminds us that it's Congress that makes the laws, not the president. In the months leading up to this decision, House Speaker Paul Ryan and more and more members of Congress on both sides of the aisle started to urge President Donald Trump to keep protections for these immigrants in place and/or make them permanent. Business leaders chimed in too, most notably Apple CEO Tim Cook. Now it's time they put their money where their mouths are.
Remember that President Obama said he executed the DACA order in 2012 because Congress refused to act on this issue with a comprehensive immigration policy. In his Rose Garden speech explaining his actions, everything sounded pretty logical and fair. The "Dreamers" are protected from deportation if they entered the United States before age 16 and continuously resided in the United States from 2007 to 2012. They have to have a clean criminal record with no felony conviction, no major misdemeanors, and no more than three petty misdemeanors. And they must have graduated from high school, or be currently enrolled in school, or have gained honorable discharge from the armed forces.
In theory and on paper, that not only sounds fair, it sounds prudent and compassionate at the same time. So what's the problem?
First off, Congress is still generally dysfunctional as the recent failure to pass an Obamacare repeal and replacement bill showed us all. No matter how great the voters might think the DACA protections are, no one can bet on this Congress passing much of anything right now.
Secondly, the realities of trying to enforce the promised basic prerequisites of the program have proven to be difficult. And there's a bit of false advertising to deal with when it comes to what the words actually mean.
The education requirements may be the clearest example of this problem. Even the very pro-immigration Migration Policy Institute notes that a large percentage of potential Dreamers will drop out of high school and other education programs. The good news is that Latino high school dropout rates have been falling lately, but they are still the ethnic group most likely to drop out according to the Pew Research Center. This is a key problem with DACA that disturbs both those who support and oppose the policy.
"Continuous residence" is another sticky part of this. To most people, that means living in the U.S. alone with the obvious exception of visits abroad, even frequent ones, as long as they are relatively short. But immigration law allows people to claim "continuous residence" even if they leave the country for multiple periods of six months. As long as you say that those long trips abroad were not part of a plan to establish a foreign residency, you're okay. That sounds more like a revolving door policy than a program set up to grant people a haven from a politically or economically hostile situation back home.