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June 30, 2022

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In Our View: Lawmakers must act on immigration reform

The Columbian
Published:

While there is reason to laud congressional members for proposed legislation on gun control, this week also has delivered a reminder of lawmakers’ proclivity for inaction.

On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order protecting immigrants brought to this country illegally as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals decree protected those immigrants from deportation and granted access to educational and work opportunities. It allowed them to fully participate in American life rather than hiding in the shadows while hoping to go unnoticed by immigration officials.

DACA is a humane program that has strengthened our nation; for many beneficiaries, the United States is the only country they have ever known. But it was never designed to be permanent. Congress was tasked with forging a long-term solution to difficult immigration questions, but has dithered for a decade.

The Trump administration, in September 2017, announced a plan to phase out DACA, but that plan failed. After winding its way through the courts, the proposal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020, with the majority ruling that the action was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court did not rule on the merits of DACA.

Then, in September 2021, a federal judge in Texas ruled that Obama overstepped his authority in creating the program. The ruling allowed DACA to remain in place for current beneficiaries but prohibited new applications.

The decadelong saga points out various shortcomings in modern politics. Congress spent years failing to enact sensible immigration reform, leaving Obama to use the preferred tool of recent presidents — the executive order — rather than engaging with the legislative process. President Donald Trump attempted to do the same, but his administration was hampered by its inherent incompetence.

Meanwhile, expecting sensible reform from Congress remains wishful thinking. Leaders of both parties seem committed to using the issue of immigration to score political points rather than seeking solutions. A decade after DACA was issued, the public is still waiting for action on border security, decisions regarding amnesty for people in this country illegally, the status of childhood arrivals and employment guidelines for migrant workers.

Amid these legislative failures, DACA seems to have the broadest public support. A 2020 opinion poll from Pew Research Center found that three-quarters of American adults favor permanent legal status for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children.

Those immigrants, commonly referred to as Dreamers and believed to be about 650,000 strong, should not live in fear of a presidential memorandum or a court ruling. They should be free to pursue educational and employment opportunities while contributing to the kaleidoscope that is the United States.

As Merkys Gomez of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project told The Seattle Times: “These are individuals who were brought to this country as children, they have grown up here and are part of the fiber of America, whether Congress wants to accept them or not.”

The fact that congressional members have not made up their minds on that front amounts to legislative malpractice.

Congress should be ready to consider and pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders and calls for a humane approach to people desiring to live in this country. After all, lawmakers have had a decade to think about it.

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