The future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy is in question. During the presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump promised to dismantle the program if he were elected but, last week, he was equivocal.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions advised the Department of Homeland Security that it “should rescind” DACA, an action that would put in jeopardy the 800,000 beneficiaries of the program (the Dreamers), which shields from deportation undocumented residents who were brought into this country as children.
In a subsequent tweet, President Trump urged Congress to “legalize DACA” within six months and, preferably, as part of a larger immigration overhaul.
A couple of days later, Trump tweeted reassurance to the Dreamers: “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about — No action!”
I suspect, however, that it’s a rare Dreamer who will rest easy based on the tweets of our mercurial president. The chances of Congress producing comprehensive immigration reform within six months seem slim. And the Trump who today claims to “love” the Dreamers may tomorrow crave a boost from his base, which generally supports swift deportation of everyone whose presence in our country is not duly documented.
The fact that many of the Dreamers have lived most of their lives with this sort of precarious uncertainty surely doesn’t make it any easier. Many have few or no memories of the country in which they were born. Many aren’t conversant in Spanish or any language other than English, the primary language of the land that is their only home.
They have grown up with the nagging knowledge that a minor traffic violation could lead to deportation, either for themselves or a close relative. President Barack Obama’s DACA program provided a two-year reprieve from the anxiety. Now that’s gone.
Of course, the Dreamers’ presence in our country is a violation of the law, and DACA’s most outspoken opponents often rely on a powerful talking point: “We are a nation of laws.”
But this assertion has a pious undertone. Others have pointed out the irony of Trump shifting positions on DACA shortly after pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a convicted lawbreaker. In fact, in one of the world’s most incarcerated countries, we often drop the legal hammer hard on the least powerful while rewarding the rich and connected with impunity.
Thus President Ford pardoned President Nixon. Thus General Petraeus got a mild hand slap for divulging secret information. Thus our prisons are filled with brown- and black-skinned Americans who were prosecuted for marijuana possession, while celebrities such as Bill Maher, Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson publicly make pot-smoking a part of their brand.
So, let’s not be overly sanctimonious about rigid adherence to the law. The Dreamers’ parents brought them into this country in violation of the law but in complete accord with the long-standing tacit understanding that when cheap labor flows north from Mexico and money flows south, everyone benefits. And often, in the service of this understanding, the law just looked the other way.
The law is what we make it and what we make of it. We are not slaves to the law, and the law can be wrong. The president’s position on DACA is uncertain, but Congress’ course should be clear: It should act to remove the threat of deportation from the Dreamers and provide for a path to legal status.
By most accounts, the Dreamers are honest, responsible people who are working hard to improve themselves and our nation. Most are deeply devoted to the only home they have ever known. They are here through no fault of their own. If the law supposes them to be something else, then I paraphrase Charles Dickens’ Mr. Bumble, who said, “The law is an ass.” Congress has the power and the support of the American people to change the law. It should do so, and quickly.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.