Sometimes I try to remember what I was like when I was six-years old. I picked my nose a lot. At recess, I played ‘house’ with the other first-graders. And after we played house, we would argue over “who loves the color pink the most.” (I did.)
I try to remember some of my biggest worries: the snacks in my lunchbox or the superhero on my shirt. I remember telling my mom that, when I grew up, I wanted to be a full-time firefighter and donut maker.
Other than that, I don’t remember much. I assume that’s the same for most of us: we were too young to know what was going on. Before coming to New Jersey for college, I asked my friend Federico the same question — what did he remember?
Fed and I met when we were six; we were in the same first-grade class. He remembered that we bonded quickly because we both liked the same slide at our local park and that we both had curly hair. We were essentially twins — exact same interests, both told stupid jokes, and we smiled whenever possible.
But, unlike me, Fed wasn’t born in Arkansas; he was from Mexico. Three months before first grade, Fed’s parents brought him to America so he could have “a better life.” At six years old, Fed was ‘undocumented’ — or, as called by some, an ‘illegal alien.’
This past Tuesday, Federico’s status in America became threatened. President Trump announced he was phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. This program offers a reprieve from deportation for certain people under 31, most of whom were typically brought to the United States as young children, such as three or four years old.
The DACA program requires people like Federico to renew a permit every two years (he has to pay the administrative fees), and in return, Federico is allowed to pay taxes, go to school, get a job, and travel freely within the United States.
Yet by phasing out DACA, Mr. Trump will send Federico to a country where he has never even lived. And it isn’t just Federico. Almost one million other DACA recipients, commonly called ‘Dreamers,’ will be taken to countries they don’t consider their own.
Mr. Trump is tarnishing America’s lifelong embrace of immigrants, which used to be a pillar of our nation. Even worse, he is punishing the six-year olds who came into this country with no understanding of immigration law — who, at most, only wanted to go to school and fight over the color pink.
If Mr. Trump were ending a program that gave a ‘free pass’ to unauthorized immigrants, I could understand how this could be a many-sided issue. But DACA doesn’t provide a ‘free pass.’ Mr. Trump ended a program that directly affects the lives of young children and young professionals. That is inexcusable.
For me, DACA highlights America’s morals and willingness to help others, transcending politics or economics. Even though the average Dreamer makes $17 per hour — in total, contributing $512 billion to our nation’s GDP — we can’t use this to decide if a human is worth keeping in our communities. And even though the average age of a Dreamer is twenty-two years old — a majority of whom are still in high school — we can’t reduce people like Federico to figures.
Unfortunately though, some people remain upset by this program, mainly because of how it started.
DACA was created by executive order during the Obama administration, although some believed President Obama shouldn’t have had the capability to do so — calling it an abuse of power. Yet Pres. Obama’s ability to enact direct changes to America’s bureaucratic departments — such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services — was granted to him by Congress and is defined in Article I of the Constitution.
Even further, recent legal battles against DACA have been consistently struck down, commonly with references to Supreme Court cases like Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer — a case reasserting the executive authority granted to the President. In some cases, DACA lawsuits have been entirely dismissed, such as one filed by the state of Mississippi and a group of ICE agents early in 2015.
DACA has legal precedent, constitutional backing, and bipartisan support by the members of Congress and the American people.
But now it doesn’t even matter. Just as Mr. Obama had the ability to enact this program, Mr. Trump has the ability to dismantle it. Even though the best approach for Mr. Trump would have been to leave DACA alone, instead, he does everything he can to spite President Obama’s legacy — in this case, reversing a landmark policy and complicating the status of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. His crass decision to end DACA — albeit, appeases to his base — also affects hundreds of American employers.
With 96% of Dreamers employed as teachers, engineers, and healthcare professionals, among other jobs, will employers be required to swiftly terminate their employees? How will this affect small businesses and major industries?
If Congress is unable to provide a solution, can Dreamers seek alternative ways to stay in America, such as through marriage or political asylum?
Could an already understaffed immigration department handle an additional 800,000 people in its roster, when the federal budget affords deporting only “400,000” people annually?
It seems there was no consideration to the consequences of phasing out DACA. This sudden change in policy creates heartache for many communities across America. It affects people in my life, and it even affects people on the Stevens campus.
Maybe Congress will pass an alternative form of DACA. But based on Congress’ past ineffectiveness, I worry Dreamers, like Federico, will have nothing to rely on.
I wish there was more we could do. But, in the meantime, we can only provide a willingness to fight for what’s right and love for all the families affected.