Immigration policy in the United States is dispiritingly divisive, but there is one bright line that few voters want to cross. There is overwhelming support from both Democratic and Republican voters for protecting the so-called Dreamers from deportation. These undocumented immigrants were brought to the United States as children and have little or no memory of living anywhere else. Nevertheless, a small number of elected officials want to jeopardize the lives of people who have worked, paid taxes—even though they are ineligible for food stamps and other benefits—and raised families in the only country they know.
In late June, the Republican attorneys general of 10 states threatened to sue the federal government in an attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the formal name of then executive action by President Barack Obama that halted deportation proceedings against Dreamers and allowed them to get work permits. John F. Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, reportedly told a group of Hispanic legislators in mid-July that the Trump administration may not defend the program in court. But Mr. Kelly implied that there would be no crackdown on Dreamers even if the program is overturned, according to The New Yorker, saying the nearly 800,000 Dreamers protected by DACA “fall into the category of people who should stay in the U.S.”
This was hardly reassuring, given the haphazard and inconsistent policy decisions of the Trump administration, especially on immigration matters, as well as reports of deportation proceedings against formerly protected Dreamers. It is also alarming that President Trump signed an executive order in January that greatly expanded the definition of “criminal” as a reason for expedited deportation; it now includes anyone an immigration officer deems a “risk to public safety or national security.” Even with DACA in place, Dreamers have reason to feel threatened; without it, the prospect of sudden forced repatriation to countries where they may not even know the language is frighteningly real.
The U.S. bishops have reaffirmed support for Dreamers. In a statement on July 18, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Tex., chair of the bishops’ Committee on Migration Committee, urged the Trump administration "to continue administering the DACA program and to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation."
It is worth noting that the DACA program became necessary because Congress has failed to pass the Dream Act, which would codify protections for those brought illegally to the United States as children. Different versions of the Dream Act have been introduced since 2001, and it received majority support in the U.S. Senate in 2010 but could not overcome a filibuster. On July 20 two senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, and Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, introduced the bill again. We urge Congress to make a first step toward long-overdue immigration reform by finally passing it.
During the recent debate on health care reform, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, cut through the political rhetoric to declarebluntly, “I did not come to Washington to hurt people.” Protecting Dreamers would be a simple way to prove that.