By rescinding former President Obama’s policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Trump has kicked this difficult issue back to Congress, where it belongs. Americans should insist that Congress fulfill its responsibility to address the plight of the “dreamers” in a way that exemplifies who we are as Americans.
In 2012, you may recall, former President Obama announced that, pursuant to DACA, he would “defer” enforcement of immigration laws for those who had entered the country illegally as minors (commonly referred to as “Dreamers”), and make them eligible for work permits. Now, with Trump’s action, the Dreamers’ legal status is again uncertain.
Instead of dithering about the partisan, political consequences of implementing badly-needed immigration reforms, Congress should focus on finding a way to make the reforms in a way that complements three core American values.
- The Rule of Law
It was wrong for Obama to implement DACA, regardless of whether it was a good policy or not, because it violated our Constitution’s separation of powers by invading the province of lawmaking delegated exclusively to Congress in Article I. In fact, he openly admitted that the very reason he took this action was because Congress had failed or refused to do so.Congress, on the other hand, as the designated lawmaking body of our national government, is specifically vested with constitutional authority over immigration. It has the opportunity – and, I submit, the responsibility – to take a fresh look at the situation and use its authority to work out a reasonable solution to the Dreamers’ quandary.
Legislation providing a feasible path for the Dreamers to comply with the law and achieve citizenship would also honor the rule of law by fostering respect for it. For the Dreamers, most of whom were brought here by their parents and know no other home but the U.S., returning to the country of their birth is not a realistic option. To leave them with no meaningful choice but to live here in the shadows, in violation of the law, would be to negate their respect for the law.
There are few groups in the U.S. more deserving of compassion than those who were brought to this country illegally, as children, by their parents. Can you imagine spending your entire childhood somewhere, only to reach adulthood and come to the realization that you are not actually a citizen of that place, and that the law may actually require you to relocate to some other country which is unknown to you?Americans have grown accustomed to having our compassionate instincts abused by those who would have us throw justice under the bus; but we must always be watchful for situations – like this one – where compassion and justice can go hand in hand.
It is understandable for Americans to oppose wholesale “amnesty” policies for those who knowingly and willfully entered our country illegally. Among other problems with this kind of amnesty is that it is a grave injustice to those immigrants who work long and hard to comply with our immigration laws and earn the privilege of American citizenship.But the Dreamers are different, to the extent that they did not enter the U.S. knowingly and willfully, but were brought here by their parents. Assessment of moral culpability is a theme that runs throughout our laws. Our criminal justice system looks not only to whether a person has committed an illegal action, but also to the person’s level of intent. We wouldn’t convict a teenager for vandalism if he committed the act at gunpoint, so why should we punish a person for being here if he was brought by his parents as a toddler?
A compassionate policy providing a path to citizenship for the Dreamers can be perfectly consistent with our values of justice and the rule of law, if it is carefully crafted toward this end. For instance, it should be coupled with improved border security, and it should not allow the Dreamers to serve as a link for purposes of “chain migration” rules. In other words, the policy must acknowledge and resolve the unfortunate plight of the Dreamers without rewarding those who caused it or creating incentives for others to defy our immigration laws in the future.
Repairing our broken immigration system is fraught with political pitfalls, but it’s past time for Congress to confront them. We should pray that our elected lawmakers will have the wisdom and the courage to craft a workable solution that unites Americans around these core values.
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