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For Dreamers, an American Nightmare

| Opinion | September 8, 2017

by Blair Bess

The American Dream is fast becoming The American Nightmare. The administration’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, better known as DACA, has tremendous consequences for all of us. By and large, most of those who have benefitted from DACA are either currently employed, learning trades, or pursuing educational opportunities that will not only benefit them, but all Americans.

There is no question that the country needs an overhaul of existing immigration policies. But to invalidate a functional program like DACA with little regard to the devastating impact it will have on the lives of friends, neighbors and loved ones without putting forward a clear alternative is one more example of this administration’s dysfunctionality. Kicking the can six months down the road in hopes that Congress will come up with a solution to the DACA issue is typical of Trumpland. It harkens to the mistake made by the administration when it pushed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act forward without an intelligent alternative with which to replace it.

DACA was put into place to allow young people — some of whom were brought over the border as infants — to legally remain, work, and study in the U.S. for renewable two-year periods. They cannot have a history of criminal behavior; they had to have entered the country prior to 2007; and had to have been 16 years old or younger when they arrived.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions proclaimed DACA unconstitutional, claiming it kept Americans from jobs that rightfully belonged to them; that “Dreamers” were robbing citizens of the U.S. and documented workers residing here the legitimate right to work. They are blamed for the inability for some Americans to prosper and have been accused of being a burden on our system; stealing fruit from the American cornucopia without giving back. Critics could not be further from the truth.

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Dreamers pay rent. Dreamers pay taxes – income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and more. Dreamers pay into the Social Security System; payments that help ensure benefits will be available for future retirees. They pay for goods and services. Dreamers pay tuition. They pay for healthcare. And today’s Dreamers, like those throughout this nation’s history, work hard, often in occupations few “legal” U.S. residents would choose.

Dreamers clean our homes and offices. They landscape our pristine lawns. They watch our children. They work in car washes. They spend backbreaking hours hunched over in fields, picking our fruits and vegetables, tending our livestock. They work as meatpackers and day laborers. But they also work in office towers, are employed by tech companies and manufacturers, and they hold advanced degrees. They are doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers. … Dreamers will do anything they must to build a better life for themselves. They are the fabric of America.

We see Dreamers every day. Some of us ignore them, some of us curse them, and those of us not part of the president’s so-called “base” accept them. And whether you like it or not, we as a country cannot function without them.

Granted, some who have entered the U.S. illegally commit illegal acts. Then again, so do many people who have entered this country legally, as do many Americans who were born and raised here. There are means of due process for those here legally and illegally. Those who engage in criminal activity are dealt with through our immigration and judicial systems. But do we believe, as a people, in punishing the many for the sins of the few?

A.G. Sessions and the administration are being disingenuous in questioning the constitutionality of an American president to put a law in place through executive action; he calls DACA “unilateral executive amnesty.” Sessions, who demonstrates a confoundingly fluid interpretation of the law, did not question our current president’s constitutional right to enact punitive actions through the immigration ban ordered in January.

After a number of lawsuits brought by the attorneys general of several states, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reached the conclusion that, as ordered, parts of the immigration ban were unconstitutional and the president’s executive order could not be enforced. While A.G. Sessions was under the impression that the ban was constitutional, the judiciary proved him, the president, and his advisors wrong.

Sessions was entitled to his opinion then and he is entitled to his opinion now. Challenges to the repeal of DACA will inevitably be brought before the judiciary. Ultimately, its constitutionality is for the courts to decide. That said, executive action is not illegal; in fact, it’s quite legal for any president to put in place policies and laws without congressional consent. This administration spent its first hundred days doing just that dozens of times for matters large and small. Executive actions can be invalidated through the passage of laws in Congress.

You may or may not like any or all of this president’s executive actions, but until they are challenged and found deficient under the law, the president and his minions can keep on writing them, whether or not we believe they are just or morally right. DACA was never intended to be a permanent remedy to our country’s broken immigration system. It was Barack Obama’s stop-gap compromise when Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, or the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors” Act.

DREAM was a bipartisan proposal first introduced in 2001 by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois. While many view Sen. Durbin as one of the most liberal members of Congress, Sen. Hatch is an undisputed icon of the Republican Party’s conservative wing. DREAM was continually defeated in Congress each time some iteration was introduced. That it has continued to resurface for over 16 years is a testament to both sides of the aisle being like-minded in their desire for immigration reform; reform that is fair and not punitive as evidenced in this administration’s repeal of DACA.

As Sen. Hatch said last week, “We need a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here.… That solution must come from Congress.”

DACA may have been imperfect, but why arbitrarily harm 800,000 innocents who, whether documented or not, are more American than not? It is an injustice of the highest order to punish these Dreamers before Congress creates a policy that is equitable for all. Pick up the phone, email your legislators, let them know the ball’s in their court lest they leave immigration reform in the hands of inexperienced, insensitive incompetents.

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