It’s time for Congress to take action to help young undocumented immigrants build a life in the United States.
The negotiations between Congress and the president have had a rocky start, but that’s the only option left after the White House recently moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows those who qualify to stay in the U.S. without fear of being deported immediately and work here legally. To qualify for that protection, applicants must have no felonies or "significant misdemeanors" on their criminal record; be enrolled in school, have a high school diploma or GED or be an honorably discharged veteran; have lived continuously in the U.S. since June 2007; prove they arrived in the U.S. at 16 or younger; be at least 15 years old; and have been younger than 31 when the program was started in 2012.
The program was put into place by then-President Barack Obama to protect these children from being deported because of a decision their parents made. It was an arrangement with many advantages: The United States would invest untold sums into education and social services for these children, and then the kids would be prepared to be contributing members of American society as adults. The U.S. – and for about 620 of them, Wyoming – would be their home.
The decision to end DACA is both impractical and unhelpful. These are children who want to work to be Americans. They have built lives in this country. They were brought here by their parents, with no say in the matter, as youngsters. They should not be sent to a foreign land to start from scratch because of a choice they had no part in.
Consider the story of one Wyoming teenager. She was brought to the U.S. as a 5-month-old by her parents, who were escaping the violence in Juarez, Mexico. She’s attended Wyoming schools and dreams of becoming a lawyer. Who does it help to deport this child from the only country she’s known? Why punish her for the actions of her parents?
Ending it also doesn’t add up economically. The program began in 2011, so for six years, the U.S. has been educating and otherwise taking care of these children. But they’re far from a drain on society – they pay fees to obtain the status and to stay. When they begin working, they pay into federal programs like Social Security and Medicaid. But now, the moment many of them are ready to contribute to the country they love, that country is preparing to eject them.
Moreover, it’s hard to see how this would cause legal citizens to lose their jobs, as there are more than 6 million open jobs in the U.S. right now, according to Labor Department data released this summer.
And these are people the U.S. could benefit from, who would make our country a stronger one. They are fully vetted and regulated under a federal program designed specifically to determine who qualifies.
They are also very much like the rest of us: The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Many of us have built lives here under far less difficult circumstances than these children will face.
President Donald Trump left it to Congress to create legislation that will continue to allow these kids to build their lives here. Its members – including the Wyoming delegation – should waste no time in ensuring this happens.
When Trump announced the timeline, Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Liz Cheney heaped most of their criticism on the process Obama used to put the law in place. Now, they and their colleagues have the opportunity to put those rules in statute in the method they believe it should be done.
And they must take advantage of that opportunity. Some in Congress are eager to do so. But to accomplish that, they'll have to overcome the squabbling that has already ensued over whether lawmakers and the president have made a deal. Top Republicans insisted late last week that there was no pact; Democrats who had talked with Trump said they had made solid progress in their negotiations with him.
This affects 800,000 young people in our country. Those in the negotiations must take this problem seriously and commit to solving it.
Some are worried about border security. Certainly, our nation’s immigration laws and enforcement are in need of improvement. But that’s an entirely separate conversation, and an issue that will not be addressed by ending DACA.
These children came here because they had no other choice at the time -- and they are here now because they want to be contributing members of American society. We should help them on that path.