In Our View: Fix for DACA Benefits All

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With the Trump administration planning to overturn protections for people brought to this country illegally as children, Congress should work quickly to recognize the value of those immigrants. Lawmakers must provide reassurance that such immigrants are safe from being deported by the only country they have ever really known.

Such action has been a long time coming. When President Barack Obama used an executive order to institute Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012, he stressed that it was a stopgap and urged Congress to provide a permanent fix for the nation’s broken immigration system. The DACA program now covers some 850,000 immigrants — including more than 17,000 in Washington — who have been allowed to pursue education and employment opportunities while strengthening the fabric of the U. S.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it will halt the DACA program in six months, giving Congress time to address an issue it has preferred to ignore. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, responded: “The president said he does not favor punishing children for the actions of their parents. I agree, and Congress must now act to treat DACA recipients with compassion. I believe we can uphold national security, protect opportunities for American citizens, and provide assurances to DACA recipients in Southwest Washington who have done nothing wrong that we understand their plight …”

To do that, Congress will have to look past the falsehoods put forth by the administration. Among them is the assertion that Obama’s executive order was unconstitutional, a claim that has not been supported in court. Curiously, the Trump administration has argued vociferously for broad executive power in trying to institute a travel ban from several Muslim-majority nations, but now insists that Obama was wrong to wield similar power.

Another phony assertion is that DACA recipients are siphoning government benefits, despite the facts that none of them are old enough to collect Social Security payouts and that they are ineligible for Obamacare benefits, Medicaid, food stamps and other social programs. Yet another is the claim that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from U.S. citizens, which ignores the truth that unemployment is near historic lows and that numerous studies have found immigrants help bolster the economy.

But beyond arguments about the benefits of the program are two overriding issues: Compassion and the rule of law.

A survey of more than 3,000 DACA recipients this year found that they arrived in the United States at the average age of 6 and have been in this country for an average of 20 years. These are people who did not choose to illegally enter the United States, nor do they have any ties to their homeland. A compassionate response would be to carve a path that can lead to citizenship rather than sending them to a country that most cannot remember.

That compassion, however, should be tempered by law. Selectively ignoring immigration laws and allowing violations to continue unabated would undermine our system of government. Congress should demonstrate that there is strong logic behind DACA protections — logic rooted in economic principles and the notion of this nation as a land of immigrants — and codify Obama’s executive order into law.

Actively working to deport nearly a million people who have built a life in the United States would be morally repugnant and economically damaging. It is up to Congress to fix the situation.