COMMENTARY: DACA may die, but hope does not have to
By now we have all heard of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and President Donald J. Trump’s decision to discontinue the policy. For the unaware, DACA is an Obama-era protection for undocumented persons who arrived in the United States as children. The purported moral basis for it is that the children had no choice in the matter at the time and are thus not legally culpable for their actions. The program undoubtedly has great support on the Rutgers campus and administration. Even our chancellor, Debasish Dutta, spoke out in an email on his support for DACA, as well as his and the administration's’ pledge to fight for undocumented students here at Rutgers.
What many people do not know though is that this has actually happened before with a lesser known program called DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. This was another policy put in place by former President Barack Obama, which would give working permits to non-citizen parents of U.S. citizens. Shortly after its announcement in November 2014, the federal government was sued over the constitutionality of DAPA in a case known as United States v. Texas. An injunction stopping the policies’ implementation was issued in February 2015 by a district court and the case was put before the United States Supreme Court in 2016. In June 2016, the Court reached a “verdict” in the form of a 4-4 split, deciding to abide by the lower court decision and leaving the injunction in place. Now with conservative Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the policy would almost certainly be struck down if tried today.
What this means for DACA though is that another group of states, this time 10 in total, have threatened to sue the federal government over DACA. This group of states, represented by the attorneys general of Arkansas, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, wrote a letter in June of 2017 to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying that they “respectfully request that the Secretary of Homeland Security phase out the DACA program.” Not long after this letter was written the Trump administration announced its intentions to end DACA. So for the time being, a court case against DACA will not be happening.
If this case had actually taken place though, given the majority of the Supreme Court is now conservative, there would have been a good chance that DACA would have been struck down, ending the program immediately. If that had happened, the instant the case came to a verdict of the program being unconstitutional, over 800,000 undocumented persons living in the United States would become eligible for deportation. Their permits would become null and void and their information being kept by government agencies could be used against them.
With Trump’s decision to end the program after a six-month grace period, the Dreamers are given leeway to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. It also gives Congress time to come up with a solution (hopefully a bipartisan solution) to DACA that will be fair and constitutional. This is why Trump’s decision is actually better for all parties involved than the alternative. It will lead to a transformation of DACA from an executive order which is able to be rescinded at any time to a law which is concrete and affords actual, tangible protections to the individuals with which it is concerned. This will most likely mean compromises and sacrifices, but it would have to happen eventually. In the immortal words of former president Ronald Reagan, “If not us, who? If not now, when?” DACA may die, but hope does not have to.
Jeremy King is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in political science.
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