On September 5, 2017, President Donald Trump issued a public statement declaring that he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This statement resulted in an outcry from both Republicans and Democrats nationwide. Many Americans understood that this would mean that thousands of illegal aliens who had been living in the United States who were brought from another country as children would lose eligibility for work permits and were at greater risk of deportation. While the President’s ruling may seem very cruel and unethical, there is a justifiable reason on why he made this decision.
Back in 2012, President Barack Obama initiated DACA in response to the failure of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). Unlike DACA, the DREAM Act was a piece of legislation enacted by Congress which if passed, would have become law. Unfortunately for those in favor of the DREAM act though, it failed to push through the Senate’s required procedural vote to cut off a filibuster in 2010 even after passing the House. DACA on the other hand was a policy enacted by the executive branch through a memorandum which came from former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Since DACA was put into effect, the US has accepted over 800,000 applications as of June 2016 with the majority of those applications coming from people of Mexican origin. In order to be protected by DACA, a person would have to fulfill these certain requirements as stated in the memorandum:
- Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- Has continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the date of this memorandum (June 15, 2012) and is present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
- Is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- Has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety; and
- Is not above the age of thirty.
If these requirements are met, the applicant would then be provided a 2-year deferment from any deportation action in addition to being eligible for a work permit in their residing area.
A policy such as this begs the question, was this constitutional? Ultimately, that is what the debate has been for a number of years since it had been put forth. Yes, the policy is helpful to immigrants who came to the US illegally as children (most of whom by the will of their families) and can be argued to be morally just, but in a society where the law of the land is written by Congress and approved by the President, is this policy at all valid? Well, in 2016, the Supreme Court was unable to make an official ruling on a decision to expand the program that would affect the policy, as it was deadlocked 4-4; this called for the lower court’s ruling that the expansion was unconstitutional to be upheld. While the expansion was ruled to be unconstitutional, DACA itself had never faced a serious challenge in court.
In his speech, President Trump stated,
“Congress now has the opportunity to advance responsible immigration reform that puts American jobs and American security first… As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion – but through the lawful Democratic process – while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve.”
After understanding the potential issues of legality of DACA in the first place, one should understand why the President mentions the “lawful Democratic process.” Congress has the job to write the laws, to solve the issues, and to pass their bills on to the President to be signed. It is presidential overreach when the president decides to enact a policy that clearly contrasts the laws passed by Congress. President Trump understands this in the context concerning DACA. For those who wish to keep the policy of DACA in place, they must remember one thing: by allowing and approving of President Obama to circumvent the legislative process with DACA, a precedent is set for President Trump and future presidents to follow which will allow them to carry out their own policies that could also circumvent the legislative process.
While the controversy behind DACA in the media is an emotional one, it must be remembered that this is also a legal one. Conservative talk show host and author Ben Shapiro has a saying: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” In the context of the current situation, it may be more appropriate to say “The law doesn’t care about your feelings.” All Americans are bound by the same laws whether we like them or not, including the President of the United States. Even though the repeal of DACA may seem like an emotionless, cruel action, it may be just what America needs in order to pass a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill such as a new versions of the DREAM Act as recently introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) in the Senate and Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard in the House. Even back in 2001, this was an issue that Congress had sought to solve through a bill sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) that ultimately failed. Luckily for DREAMers, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, “The president said he supports (the DREAM Act), he would sign it.” It should be remembered that Congress makes the laws, not the President. While the President does have some prosecutorial discretion, he does not have the power to completely change an entire structured system written as law. Instead of exclusively berating the President on the issue, the best option for those in support of DACA would be to contact their legislators and lobby them to approve of an effective immigration bill that could then be signed into law. The fate of all immigrants who come to the United States should not lie in the hands of a sole individual, whether it is President Obama or President Trump. Instead, it should lie in the hands of many individuals who represent the people of America, Congress.