In recent months it has become clear that it will not be possible for the government to move on to overdue priorities like infrastructure without first deciding on the successor to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs. Many Americans citizens may not realize how high the stakes are for the recipients of these programs. They allow immigrants who have been long-term residents to go about their lives as legal denizens of our country, rather than citizens. Most importantly, the recipients often came here without having any say in the matter-factors beyond their control have placed their fates in the hands of Congress. Many of them are very high achievers and contribute significantly to our GDP, something I know that the President wants to increase. But when these programs are completely gone, there will be nothing stopping their deportation.
DACA was created in 2012 by former President Obama in response to the failure of the DREAM Act of 2011, which would have allowed many undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children and have been here long-term to avoid deportation. Like the failed DREAM Acts before and since, it was intended to allow said immigrants to achieve lawful permanent resident status, allowing them to eventually pursue citizenship. DACA has allowed this to be the reality for about 800,000 people. TPS was a deportation-avoidance program created in 1990 by Congress in the interest of undocumented immigrants who came here due to catastrophes in their countries of origin.
Now, DACA is under fire due to questions about its constitutionality and many of those benefiting from TPS, such as those from Haiti and El Salvador will no longer be allowed to do so after a certain point within the next two years, depending on country of origin. The reason that so many of these immigrants may face deportation is that the Department of Homeland Security has announced that the Trump administration has decided that the conditions in these countries have improved to the point where sanctuary here is no longer needed. In the case of Syria, some will be allowed to stay longer while others will be at risk of being forced to return to the horrors of the civil war there.
Since countless residents of the US are facing deportation to countries that the President does not hold in high regard, he has an opportunity and an obligation to devise a successor to these programs that will ensure that those who do not deserve to be deported will not have to be. Essentially, his finished plan would have to include the kind of criteria that will determine if an immigrant can be allowed to continue their residency and remain on the path to citizenship. The plan would need to be simple and straightforward, and to avoid the vulnerability of executive orders (as evidenced by DACA’s history) it would have to be enacted via a bill to be passed by Congress.
In the plan that I am imagining, just like in the plan that he has announced so far, the key criteria would, in fact, be similar to those of DACA. As listed on the Georgetown Library Law website, “The requirements for participating in DACA are: Under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; Entered the United States by the 16th birthday; Continuous residence in the United States since June 15, 2007; Physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time of the request for consideration under DACA; Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012; Currently in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from a high school, or have obtained a GED, or honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States, and; Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.”
To me, these requirements would offer a very good standard for going forward. Despite fulfilling his promising to end the program, the President has expressed sympathy for those brought here as children, so it seems like a no-brainer that any legislation that he proposes should at least contain protections for them. As for immigrants too old to qualify for a DACA-like program, provisions could be added that would allow those who have children who are American citizens, those who would have a reason to believe that they would be in danger if they were to return, those who are disabled or require medical treatment that would not be available in their home country, and those who are enrolled in education to not be deported. These details would, of course, have to be further ironed out by Congress.
Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
So far, the President has proposed what an eventual plan might look like in statements before and during his recent State of the Union Address. His plan would no longer permit chain migration, meaning that accepted immigrants would only be allowed to bring their spouses and children younger than 18. The Visa diversity lottery, where vetted candidates who are chosen are granted the chance to apply for a visa, will be ended. This would mean that there will be even fewer immigrants from countries that already do not contribute many people within the past half-decade. The plan would also require an extra $25 billion be spent on border security, something favored by many Republicans. On the other hand, his plan would go beyond what DACA and TPS have done by allowing 1.8 million people either currently in DACA or who qualify for DACA to be made citizens, as long as they have met the requirements for about just over a decade.
This plan has some good components-like my hypothetical plan, it would keep the requirements of DACA as the criteria. Unfortunately, the plan, in its current state, seems very unlikely to pass. The Democrats don’t like the new immigration restrictions and increased border funding, and the Republicans don’t like the fact that rather than providing protection from deportation, the president’s plan would be a direct path to citizenship. Also, the plan does not include a new TPS-like criterion, meaning that lawmakers who do not agree with the President’s assessment of the condition of the countries in question will not approve. Therefore, I feel that something more in line with my ideal plan would have much better odds of reaching a bipartisan and bicameral compromise in Congress. Although, I must say that if the plan does indeed fail, members of both parties may face retribution in the coming midterm election, as the plan seems to be tailored to appeal to the majority of voters, considering how to offers concessions to both sides and, taken as a whole, includes things that most voters want.
It is true that the exceptions that I have listed may not be favored by many Republican lawmakers, and the immunity to deportation would have to be renewed periodically (under DACA, status is renewed every two years; under this new plan it could be changed to whatever stretch of time is most palatable) it is very likely that the entire Democratic caucus of Congress and at least enough Republicans to pass it would vote yes if a bill were drafted by a bipartisan combination of lawmakers and it had the President’s endorsement. All he would have to do to ensure passage of such a bill would be to talk to “Chuck and Nancy,” one Republican Senator and a handful of GOP Representatives.
In reality, even if the president were to endorse such a bill, Congressional gridlock likely would not allow it to be as clean-cut as the one I have laid out here-the existing Dream Act of 2017, co-sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, still has an uncertain future, and my plan certainly deviates from the President’s current one. Regardless, if the president is truly passionate about the issue, then he should put a plan into action so as to ease the severe anxiety of those qualified individuals who now believe that they will be forced to leave the country they have known and loved for years, decades, or possibly their entire lives.
[Featured image via Marco Verch on Flickr].