Castillo: Using DACA youths as political pawn betrays America’s values

So, this is what passes now for showing “great heart” in America.

“We are going to show great heart,” President Trump assured the nation in February when asked about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “We are going to deal with DACA with heart.”

More like heart-breaking.

Trump unveiled his brand of compassion on Tuesday, dispatching Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce that the administration will stop renewing DACA work permits, ending temporary Obama-era legal protections for some 800,000 people who entered the country illegally as children. Without DACA, they will eventually lose their two-year work permits and live again under the fear of deportation.

VIEWPOINTS: Congress should stand by Dreamers, grant them legal status.

Known as “Dreamers,” many are adults now — and they are Americans in every way, except that they lack the legal papers to show it. They know no other country.

Sessions, who like Trump had his own take on compassion, said DACA was unconstitutional, denied hundreds of thousands of jobs to Americans and amounted to amnesty.

“We are a people of compassion and we are a people of law,” he said. “But there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws.”

The rule-of-law argument is one you hear often in the immigration debate, especially among the “what part of illegal don’t you understand?” crowd. Interesting, though, how you don’t hear it applied much to the employers who hire the 8 million undocumented immigrants who make up an integral part of our country’s workforce.

Trump put the ball in Congress’ court, telling lawmakers they have six months to possibly save DACA. Leaving that for Congress to fix in 180 days is to put on blinders and to ignore that overhauling immigration policy has vexed lawmakers for decades.

Remember: Congress’ failure to protect Dreamers drove President Obama to bypass Congress and sign the 2012 executive order creating DACA in the first place.

With that dismal history, one might think Trump’s strategy is doomed to fail. Already, there is talk in Washington that some Republicans will tie fixing DACA to getting funding for Trump’s prized border wall, which Dems and even some in the GOP oppose. Another scenario ties a DACA fix to a bill to slash legal immigration by making deep cuts to family-based migration.

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Some veteran immigration policy wonks, however, see a rare chance to get something done if lawmakers address DACA only — and if Republicans avoid forcing other immigration and border enforcement objectives. The business and faith communities could get behind a DACA replacement, and so could most Americans who support DACA in polls, said Dan Kowalski, who’s been practicing immigration law for more than 30 years.

“So, it would or could give the Republicans a boost in the sense that it’s the first piece of major legislation that the president actually signs and signs rapidly,” Kowalski said.

In February, Trump indicated he was wrestling with the moral dilemma of ending DACA. But he also smeared recipients with a wide brush, adding, “In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly.”

Absent any evidence, such vilifying rhetoric appeals to the basest instincts among those who harbor a nativist world view and who equate undocumented immigrants with criminals.

There is no need to spook America. Dreamers are not the Boogeyman. DACA recipients must pass a criminal background check and vetting process. And many studies have found that immigrants to not commit crimes at a higher rate than nonimmigrants.

Of the nearly 790,000 people who hold DACA status, 124,000 live in Texas, according to the Pew Research Center.

They are people you might know. Like Karen Reyes, a special education teacher who in an essay for this newspaper, said, “I grew up with your kids — and now I am teaching your kids.”

They are college students, workers, nurses, lawyers and professionals. They are achievers; 95 percent are working or in school, according to one survey. They contribute to the economy. Ending DACA would reduce real gross domestic product by $72 billion, an American Action Forum study found.

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They are heroes like Alonso Guillén, a Mexican immigrant and a generous soul who lost his life rescuing Houstonians stranded in floodwaters. Guillén’s death became a galvanizing point for advocates who pleaded with Trump to preserve DACA.

Offering these young adults DACA protections was the right and moral thing to do. They shouldn’t be punished for the actions of their parents.

It’s not fair to these young people to play politics with their lives. It is a betrayal of the values we say we hold dear in America, a nation of immigrants.

It is a betrayal of the American dream.

Castillo is the editorial page editor. Contact him at

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