Five years ago, I helped a young man fill out his application for DACA, which gave young undocumented immigrants — generally brought to this country as children — temporary protected status. I helped him for free, but he sent me a gift card in the mail afterward. Where the card said “For:” he wrote “changing my life.”
As a successful DACA applicant, he had received a renewable two-year reprieve from deportation, along with a two-year work permit, giving him the ability to find a job, an apartment and more. He went from frightened to hopeful, all thanks to one envelope from our Department of Homeland Security. It was a powerful reminder of what one application could mean.
This week, under the guise of “the rule of law,” the Trump administration has announced the end of DACA, or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” a program that did so much to bring immigrant youth into the rule of law despite its temporary nature. DACA helped the “Dreamers,” as those protected under the law are known, leave the shadows to study, work and build their own unique versions of the American Dream. The successes of those with DACA have been beautiful to behold, as has their excitement at being recognized by a country that has always felt like their home.
That all died with the decision to cancel DACA. I am scared for so many like the young man I helped who may now go from their productive, law-abiding lives to being placed in the long line for deportation. In the very short-term, lawyers can and will help those whose DACA status expires between now and March of next year to renew before the October 5th deadline. And as many of those with DACA are full-time students, many of us should dig into our wallets to defray the $495 cost of renewing DACA
But what else? Well, DACA was created by executive action, and as such has always been vulnerable to any executive that wants to undo it.
A permanent solution will have to be legislative. Our attention must turn immediately and powerfully to Congress. Only Congress can create a durable immigration status that cannot be revoked by executive fiat. DACA never had that durability and did not put its recipients on the path to citizenship. So, we can do better.
Happily, since 2000, Congress has had before it a bill to set the Dreamers on that path. Called the DREAM Act, it has been introduced in every single congressional session. It nearly passed in 2010; the failure to pass that year ultimately led to the establishment of DACA in 2012. Now with five years of experience seeing Dreamers thrive under DACA, perhaps there is the political will to finally move the DREAM Act through Congress successfully. Everyone who cares about the young people whose productive young lives are going to be upended by this decision needs to ardently support this kind of legislative solution.
But even at its visionary best, the DREAM Act is but a small piece of the puzzle. It does not solve the problems with our nation’s failed immigration system, which condones leaving 11 million people to live in the shadows for decades — the vast and overwhelming majority of whom are hard-working, productive people with lives and families, with flaws and foibles, with promise and possibility.
We need to protect our Dreamers, but let us not lose sight of the many others. They are not all high school valedictorians or future surgeons or award-winning writers. But they are volunteering at PTA bake sales and as Little League coaches. They rebuilt New Orleans and would like to be able to help rebuild Houston. They are raising kids and tending to aging parents. We owe them so much and have given them so very little.
All of America’s undocumented immigrants deserve a path to citizenship, a chance to have our nation see them as individuals capable of contributing and deserving of the peace of mind that stable immigration status can bring. And with that peace of mind, may we see the kinds of beauty and joy that our Dreamers experienced for the past five years.
Let’s take our cue from the Dreamers themselves and keep dreaming, boldly. Get Congress to pass the DREAM Act now and get broad, meaningful immigration reform back on the table. We are enriched by immigrants. Let’s get our laws in line with policies that will truly make America great.
Elizabeth Keyes (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.