U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that in six months the Trump administration will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered work authorization and a reprieve from immigration action to some 800,000 young people — and 5,889 Pennsylvanians — who were brought to the United States as children by parents who came here illegally. DACA recipients had to meet age, education and residency criteria and pass background checks; they also had to renew their DACA status every two years. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services no longer is accepting new requests for DACA, and will renew DACA status only for current recipients whose benefits are set to expire before March 5, 2018.
Imagine being brought to the United States as an infant or little kid, going to American schools, speaking English, making friends here, becoming in every way — except for your legal status — American.
That has been the experience of Roger Avila-Vidal, a hardworking and smart-as-a-whip senior at McCaskey High School, who is president of that school’s chapter of the National Honor Society. He was a toddler when his parents brought him here from Mexico. As he writes in today’s Perspective section, “I know nothing else but the United States; it is my only home.” Do we want to send someone with his potential to a country he doesn’t know?
Consider, too, Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez Sierra, who also writes in today’s Perspective. When he came here from the Dominican Republic at age 11, he poured everything he had into becoming a success and pushed to be placed in honors classes. He was the student council president at Hempfield High School. He went to HACC and attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, and then went on to earn two master’s degrees — one in Cambridge, England, the other in China. Do we want to lose his talents to a country he no longer knows?
And then there’s Agustina Drot de Gourville, who was born in Argentina and brought here by her parents when she was 10. She’s now 27, and works as a bilingual legal assistant at a Lancaster law firm. She writes today that she is “not asking for any handouts, nor do I need them.” Indeed, she’s paying taxes with no expectation of ever collecting benefits. She wants only to contribute to this community. Do we really want to send her back to Argentina?
How about the 900 or so DACA recipients who are serving in the U.S. military?
Opponents of DACA say individual stories don’t matter — it’s a matter of law. We agree with the latter, but not the former.
DACA recipient stories do count, because this isn’t a program that’s open to anyone. To retain DACA status, recipients have to be educated or getting an education; more than 75 percent of DACA recipients are employed. Criminality is a disqualifier.
The DACA program doesn’t offer a pathway to citizenship. It’s a reprieve that allows young adults to get educated and work in the country they consider home.
We agree with conservative columnist Jay Ambrose that by launching the administrative program by executive order, former President Barack Obama left it vulnerable to the actions of future presidents.
We also agree with President Donald Trump that Congress needs to come up with a better solution.
Where we part with the Trump administration is on its offer of a six-month window for Congress to act before DACA is rescinded.
That is not enough time. It’s an arbitrary and unreasonable deadline that leaves DACA recipients understandably nervous — pushed “back into fear,” as Avila-Vidal writes today.
Our polarized Congress hasn’t been able to accomplish anything of significance. Meaningful immigration reform, of the sort championed by GOP U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, seems like a pipe dream.
But if ever there’s an issue on which there can be bipartisan agreement, we hope it’s this one.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that terminating the employment eligibility of the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients working for American businesses “runs contrary to the president’s goal of growing the U.S. economy.”
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called last week for quick passage of the bipartisan DREAM Act 2017. It would offer a path to citizenship to young immigrants who arrived in the United States as children if they have completed at least two years of a bachelor’s degree program, or have been employed for at least three years, or have served in the U.S. military for at least two years.
Attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia, including Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro, are suing the Trump administration over its plan to rescind DACA. In a statement, Shapiro said the lawsuit seeks to ensure the federal government doesn’t use the personal information provided by DACA recipients against them, and addresses the economic harm being done to Pennsylvania and other states by the decision to end DACA.
We share those concerns. But a lawsuit likely will take too long. Congress needs to act — and quickly.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has decried the end of DACA, but surely will vote for a permanent fix to the program. Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has expressed support for a legislative solution, too. So, too, has Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County.
Smucker was supportive of young immigrants who lacked legal status when he was in the state Senate. In an August meeting with the LNP Editorial Board, he said he was “glad to hear the president say that he hopes we can work something out for the DACA kids.”
It’s up to Smucker and his colleagues in Congress now. We hope he leads on this. For the sake of Roger Avila-Vidal, Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez Sierra and Agustina Drot de Gourville. And all the so-called “Dreamers” whose dreams now are in peril.