They are students. They are employees. In some cases, they are employers. They are Americans in every possible way except for the one over which they have no control: their place of birth. These are the Dreamers, the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, and they deserve better than to have their world upended by political pandering.
Yet that is exactly what is happening behind the scenes in Washington and elsewhere. The attorneys general in 10 states, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, have threatened to sue if the White House does not rescind DACA protections before Congress returns to work Tuesday. President Donald Trump promised to wipe out the policy while on the campaign trail in 2016, had an apparent change of heart after the election and has been largely silent the past couple of months.
The executive order, signed by Barack Obama in 2012, gives some legal status to immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. They can work, pay taxes, get drivers' licenses and go to college. They must have high school diplomas, or be working toward one, and have no criminal blemishes on their record. Their status has to be renewed every two years. In other words, they must be educated, productive citizens — exactly what anyone would want of their own children.
But that's not enough for a handful of Republican attorneys general. Emboldened by a 2015 injunction that prevented Obama from providing similar protection for the parents of Dreamers in a policy known as DAPA, they are now going after teenagers and young adults who have committed no crime other than being brought to this country as children. (Florida, under Attorney General Pam Bondi, was one of 26 states that challenged DAPA in court. Bondi is not part of the current DACA threat.)
Considering that a lawsuit would end up in the same courtroom as the judge who issued the 2015 injunction, there is understandable concern that DACA's future is on shaky legal ground. The original injunction was later affirmed by a split Supreme Court that has since added conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench. This all raises the possibility that Trump might pre-emptively end the policy rather than have his Justice Department fight for an Obama legacy. That would be a regrettable mistake.
These are young people who have been in this country for 10, 15, 20 years. Young people who have sat in public school classrooms with the rest of our children. They are workers who pay taxes and buy products. There are roughly 33,000 DACA recipients in Florida who could potentially be put out of work or school and face deportation if their waivers are not renewed.
With polls showing a strong majority of Americans in favor of DACA protections, there is suspicion that the lawsuit is a political threat meant to force Congress into working on a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Essentially, the Dreamers would be a pawn in a political game. If Congress gets tough on border security and ramps up deportation of non-Dreamers, then perhaps current DACA recipients could have a path toward citizenship.
That would be a cynical and cruel strategy. Basically, it would force Dreamers to choose citizenship for themselves and sacrifice their parents, who would likely face deportation. A country built on immigrants should be better than that. Trump should unequivocally affirm his support for DACA this week rather than move to kill it, and he should urge fellow Republicans to denounce the threats coming from the attorneys general.