Last year, the Supreme Court upheld the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program despite several years of efforts by the Trump administration to end the policy. It was hailed as a great victory not only for those who came to this country as children of undocumented immigrants, but for communities like Baltimore that have been enriched by their presence. Last Friday, a federal judge in Texas sadly took a different route. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen concluded the DACA program is illegal and immediately put a stop to new applications. It does not mean that the more than 600,000 people currently in the program face deportation anytime soon, but it does leave about 80,000 applicants in limbo.
U.S. immigration policy is something of a mess, particularly when it comes to the Southern border, where racism, xenophobia and presidential politics play an oversized role in poor policymaking. How we enforce borders, who is accepted as a legal immigrant, how we respond to global humanitarian crises, how we treat the millions of undocumented people who already live as our neighbors — all deserve more thoughtful consideration than Washington seems capable of providing. DACA, which temporarily shielded from deportation some of those brought her illegally as children, was that little ray of hope that sensibility and common sense would prevail.
These individuals, many of whom have awareness of no other country than the United States, ought to be given a chance to succeed, a chance to have a driver’s license, to attend college, to get a job and to qualify for benefits. Studies have long shown that the so-called “dreamers” provided these opportunities are far more likely to succeed and live exemplary lives. People forced to live in the shadows are more likely to struggle and fail.
Judge Hanen’s ruling did not turn on the worthiness of the program. It was not based on the positive outcomes. It was certainly not supported by public sentiment, as polls show about three-quarters of Americans favor legal status for children brought to this country illegally. Rather, it was on procedural grounds. He ruled that DACA did not receive proper procedural vetting. Matters like the “notice and comment” process were not followed to the letter. In other words, tens of thousands of lives were just thrust into turmoil because the letters were not not dotted and crossed exactly right.
There are any number of ways this unhappy circumstance can be corrected. The best would be for Congress to finally get around to meaningful immigration reform and broaden legal immigration opportunities generally. The second-best would be to give blessings specifically to the DACA program with a path to citizenship, either by approving the American Dream and Promise Act or by simply amending it onto the pending infrastructure legislation, which can be approved on a party-line vote. But at the very least we would expect the U.S. Department of Justice to vigorously defend DACA as President Joe Biden has promised to do.
For generations, the nation’s cities have served as a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees, and for good reason: They benefit. Baltimore, too, is improved by the addition of men and women looking to better their lives, to raise families, to work hard and to prosper. Isn’t this the ideal for a country built on immigration? Should all cities not aspire to be sanctuaries for the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore?” If not, why does the State of Liberty claim it to be so? Drawing and retaining immigrants to Baltimore ought to be among the city’s priorities. It worked out well in the 19th century, with the influx of Germans, Irish and other Europeans, and it’s a formula that can work again to help reverse the city’s chronic population loss.
Immigration advocates say Judge Hanen’s decision is disappointing. That is far too charitable an assessment. For thousands of people living in Maryland, it’s yet another rollercoaster moment in which their immigration status, their livelihoods, and their futures are left up in the air. As local advocates point out, these individuals who make real and lasting contributions to the city, to this state, to this country. That they continue to be viewed as “other” because of their national origin, race or native language is shameful for a country founded on freedom and whose genius lies in its acceptance of the “tempest tossed.”
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.