Time for Congress to Step Up

Creative Commons photo by Susan Melkisethian

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that no more applications will be accepted for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), with the program officially ending in March of 2018. DACA was an executive order signed by then- President Barack Obama in 2012 after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) DREAM Act (the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act”) stalled in the Senate in 2010.

DACA provided for nearly 800,000 “Dreamers”, children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents when they were children. The program provided these individuals with a chance to “come out of the shadows” of the threat of immigration. In order to qualify, individuals needed to be under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, have come to the United States before they turned 16, and have lived in the country continuously since June 2007.  They also must have a high school diploma (or GED), or be in school, and cannot have a criminal record.

In response to the announcement, Republican Congresswoman Mimi Walters, who represents California’s 45th District and serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, challenged her colleagues to act. “The Constitution mandates that Congress, not the President, write the laws.  DACA, while well intentioned, was an unconstitutional abuse of executive power. Our nation and our government cannot function unless we uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. It is now up to Congress to develop a permanent legislative solution to provided certainty to the young people who were brought to America as children without the proper documents through no fault of their own. America is the only home most of these young people have ever known and it is unjust to punish them for the actions of their parents. Congress should work to ensure their residency so that they can continue to the community and strengthen our Nation.”

Congresswoman Walters is absolutely right. The Constitution clearly states that it is the role of Congress to create laws. Even Obama acknowledged this when he was signing DACA as an executive order: “This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” Obama said. “This is a temporary stopgap measure.”’ He echoed his concerns after Sessions’ announcement. “And for years while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill. That bill never came.”

And because Congress refused to send Obama a bill to provide relief to individuals who came to the country as children, his “administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country. We did so based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, because our immigration enforcement agencies have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus those resources on those who come illegally to this country to do us harm.”

Obama admits that Congress should make laws, and that the President should only use executive orders when Congress refuses to act in order to provide for the safety and well-being of the American people (something he and President Donald Trump seem to agree on).

Here’s the thing though: according to a recent Gallup Poll, almost half of Americans, have no or very little confidence in Congress, and only 12- 20% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot confidence in Congress.

Congress does not have the trust of the people.  Because of this, it makes complete sense why the Dreamers are concerned and scared by Trump’s statement today. After all, the Affordable Care Act took almost 2 years of meetings and compromises to get through Congress – Trump only gave Congress six months to act before the program phases out, unless he does the same thing he criticized his predecessor for.

Sessions’ announcement was disappointing on many levels. While most Americans understand and appreciate that the United States is a nation of laws, it also is a nation of compassion. The Dreamers came out of the shadows in good faith – and now their identities are known by the US government. This means that if Congress is unable to act and pass a law to keep these individuals in the United States, Immigration and Custom Enforcement knows exactly where to find them. Although the agency says “It has no plans to target DACA holders as their permits expire. They will be eligible for deportation, but remain a low priority,” that likely is of little reassurance.

it is important to remember these individuals did nothing wrong. Their parents did. And yet the Dreamers are the ones being punished when they are the ones who are doing everything right – they are the living embodiment of the American Dream. It makes little sense why these individuals could not be grandfathered into the program and then shut DACA down in the future to give Congress time to act.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said, “It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the President’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this country.”  However, even FOX News, known for its conservative tendencies, admits: “Congress has repeatedly tried – and failed – to come together on immigration overhaul legislation, and it remains uncertain whether the House would be able to pass anything on the divisive issue.”

One would hope Ryan’s words are more than rhetoric and that Congress can fulfill its legislative duty on this important issue.

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