If you’re interested in immigration reform, then the past couple of weeks have probably left you with a bit of whiplash. This month, President Donald Trump and Democratic leadership reportedly reached a deal that includes eventual citizenship for those currently protected by Obama’s now-rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. Then, Trump tweeted that there was no such deal. Paradoxically, he also expressed sentiments in favor of DACA in other tweets.
Because of the economic and social benefits those protected by DACA provide for the U.S., it’s likely to be a good deal if Republicans and Democrats can come together. The approximately 800,000 recipients of DACA protections, usually called “Dreamers,” are educated, hardworking and entrepreneurial individuals. Though DACA’s opponents are right to voice legitimate worries about the executive power DACA was born from, they tend to exaggerate the costs of the program and ignore its benefits.
Dreamers don’t get an easy path to citizenship. There are demanding requirements to qualify. For example, not only are felons ineligible for DACA, but multiple misdemeanors can also disqualify an applicant. Applicants must be either finished with their education and working or currently pursuing an education or be honorably discharged veterans. Many immigrants hire lawyers to help them apply because the process is so difficult.
All of this screening has one advantage: Only talented and industrious people qualify for DACA. This should make DACA recipients an easy place for compromise between different political camps since these people, whether they entered the country lawfully or not, are a huge economic boost.
Too many people think immigrants take jobs from Americans or are worried about increased crime. Setting aside the obvious question of how someone who grew up in America is not also an American in every meaningful way, it’s simply not true that DACA recipients are displacing native-born workers or that immigrants are more likely to break the law. In fact, in the case of Dreamers, it’s possible immigrants are employing Americans.
Many Dreamers intend to start businesses or already have. A survey from October 2016 by immigration policy analysts found DACA recipients are twice as likely to start a business as U.S. citizens. Dreamers run their own craft stores or do tax preparation services, and some even have created their own tech startups. Deporting Dreamers is at least as likely to mean fewer American jobs as it is to employ an American in the immigrant’s place.
Consider Luis Quiroz, a Dreamer who was brought to San Diego when he was 6 months old. Now he is 27. He was on his way to classes at San Francisco State University when he learned Trump rescinded Obama’s executive order creating DACA. Though he shed some tears at the news, his next response was to finish school and start a business. If that isn’t the definition of American pluck pulled straight from one of Horatio Alger’s stories, then nothing is.
People like Quiroz are exactly the type of people who will be deported if legislative action does not provide another avenue for them.
Immigrants don’t threaten the jobs of U.S. citizens, but critics who object to the use of executive orders to reform immigration have a point. As both Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and Jason Willick of the American Interest have noted, the rule of law demands that it is not enough to know the results of some governmental action will be good, but that legislation must also go through the proper process to become law. Executive action is simply not the place for immigration policy to be made.
Setting aside concerns about executive overreach for a moment, however, those affected by DACA’s potential removal deserve some slack. Dreamers are not just mostly upstanding individuals today, but they were young children or infants when they came to America. No one holds children to the same moral or even legal standards to which we hold adults. Those who are thoughtlessly repeating that since DACA recipients are here illegally they should be “sent home” are forgetting this simple fact about moral responsibility. To deport people whose crime is nothing more than following their parents across a border without proper documentation is ludicrous, to say nothing of its stark lack of human decency.
With DACA protections ending soon, congressional action on immigration reform is more important than ever. Last week’s rumors of an agreement should be just the start of positive immigration reform. Sens. Hatch and Lee, along with the rest of Congress, should only consider bills that help the Dreamers stay in their homes and their country. That’s why bills like the Republican-led Recognizing America’s Children Act (RAC) are encouraging. It’s time Congress got to work and made immigration easier.
Josh T. Smith is a master’s student in economics at Utah State University and works as a policy analyst for Strata, a public policy research center based in Logan, Utah.