In 2001, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin introduced the bipartisan Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This would grant a pathway to permanent US residency for current residents who immigrated illegally as minors. If they are between 12 and 35 at the date of enactment, have proof of entry before age 16 and residence for at least five consecutive years, have a high school diploma or GED, and pass criminal background checks, they are eligible to remain for six years, during which time they must complete two years of higher education (college) or military service, and not commit a felony or drug-related misdemeanor, in order to gain permanent residency status.
The DREAM Act has been reintroduced several times but failed to pass. In the meantime, President Barack Obama signed an executive memorandum, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), under which immigrants younger than 31 who arrived before the age of 16, have lived in the US since 2007, and passed background checks, are deferred from deportation for two years and allowed to apply for a work permit, which may be renewed.
Although officially only Congress can pass laws, Article II Section 3 of the Constitution grants the President power to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,’ with executive memoranda used to delegate tasks to government agencies, and the stronger executive orders required to cite the constitutional authority behind them. Memoranda and orders carry the force of law, and although Congress can vote on a bill to nullify them, the President can veto the nullification. The Supreme Court has the power to rule a memorandum or order unconstitutional, just as it can with Congressional laws. President Obama asserted that DACA enhanced the enforcement of existing immigration laws by placing a lower priority for deportation on immigrants who are working or attending higher education.
President Donald Trump announced his intention during the campaign to repeal DACA on “day one’ of his presidency. His own executive memorandum for the repeal was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on September 5, 2017, but said repeal would be deferred by six months, allowing work permits to be renewed if they expired before March 5, 2018, and allowing Congress to pass the DREAM Act or similar legislation. Congress failed to come to an agreement in time, but a Supreme Court ruling postponed the effective date of the repeal until October 2018 — less than a month from now. At that time, “Dreamers’ will be in danger of being deported — after willfully giving personal information when applying for DACA.
The worn-out argument, repeated by Sessions, that immigrants take the jobs of native-born citizens is called the “lump of labor fallacy,’ a notion that there’s a limited number of jobs available; in fact, increased residency means increased consumption, leading to increased demand, and hence more employment in industries supplying goods. A path to legal citizenship means that immigrants start (or continue) paying taxes.
My reasons for supporting the continuation of DACA, as well as the proposed DREAM Act, are similar to my reasons for supporting publicly funded education: the proposals affect minors, who have very few legal rights to make decisions on their own. Usually they arrived here illegally because of decisions made by their parents, often beyond their control. Dreamers have spent their formative years in the US, absorbing the culture, learning English as a primary language, having no memory of the country they’d be forced to “return’ to. Many Dreamers wouldn’t even realize they are here illegally until they apply for a job or college.
In short, minors who arrived as immigrants, illegally or otherwise, are among those who have best used their time in the US to advance the well-being of our society. They have demonstrated that working in the US has helped rather than hurt the US, and for that reason everyone should give their support to Congressional and state candidates who support legislation for the legalization of these Dreamers.