Trump could ease anxieties, send message to Congress by shielding DACA

As the nation starts a new year with soon-to-be President Donald Trump at its helm, it would be a courageous, kind and politically wise move for Trump to ease the anxieties of hundreds of thousands of millennials who fear being deported for a crime they didn’t commit.

He could do that now by making clear he won’t revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Barack Obama put in place in 2012 through an executive directive granting temporary protection from deportation to a certain group of undocumented people – those persons who were brought illegally to the country as children.

The so-called Dreamers eligible for DACA number nearly 800,000, with about 236,000 living in Texas — second only to California with about 415,000. Not all who are eligible have been accepted, so estimates for those in the DACA program total over 740,000.

As a whole, they are a talented lot: students, college graduates, techies, health and legal professionals, veterans and soldiers in our military forces, and of course, regular workers who build the country’s roads and bridges.

Consider that Dreamers arrived in the country before their 16th birthday and have continuously resided in the United States since at least 2007. They have passed criminal background checks and paid nearly $500 each in fees to apply for DACA. Having grown up mostly in this country, they would be lost if deported to Mexico, Jamaica, South Korea, Philippines or Poland — some of the top countries from which Dreamers hail, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

By any standard, it would be inhumane to strip Dreamers of protections allowing them to live in the country under a temporary status, which not only shields them from deportation but provides them with the necessary permits and authorizations to obtain driver’s licenses and work legally in Texas and all other states for two years. After two years, Dreamers must renew their DACA status to stay in the program.

Locally, several college presidents — including Gregory L. Fenves of the University of Texas, Colette Pierce Burnette of Huston-Tillotson University, Edward Burger of Southwestern University and Donald Christian of Concordia University — and UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven have signed a statement expressing support for undocumented students on their campuses as doubts swirl about what Trump will do when he takes office on Jan. 20.

Even Trump has acknowledged the unique and challenging circumstances of Dreamers, telling Time magazine, “They got brought here at a very young age. They’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs.

“And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

To ease their anxieties, Trump could and should tell them now he won’t shut down DACA. Those worries, no doubt, are made worse by the fact that Dreamers, in order to apply for DACA and obtain working permits, have provided personal information to local and national authorities they fear could be used to target and deport them should Trump take a hard line against illegal immigration.

Trump certainly will be pressured by his base to keep his campaign promise to revoke Obama’s directive regarding DACA. But there also is pressure to maintain DACA, even from many Republicans, as witnessed by legislation proposed by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona. The measure aims to extend DACA’s legal protections for a period to give the Congress time to pass a permanent fix addressing the plight of Dreamers either as a separate law or part of an overhaul of immigration.

The proposed bill could serve as a way forward for Trump, who after taking office could chose to defer action on DACA while signaling Congress to expedite the matter by sending him a bill to sign over the next several months. That would maintain the status quo — and in our view is the best approach.

Such a gesture coming from Trump would send a strong message to the Republican leadership in Texas as it convenes for business on Jan. 10 with an agenda considered unfriendly, if not hostile, to undocumented immigrants. Already, for example, a bill has been filed to ban in-state tuition for immigrants who arrived in the country illegally.

Since 2001, Texas has had a law allowing its undocumented residents who graduate from high school or earn a GED to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. It’s a law that has been backed and defended by Republican Gov. Rick Perry and other GOP lawmakers. But it has come under fire as the Legislature moves further to the right.

Trump also will have other options in addressing DACA.

Politico reported that GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has proposed phasing out the program by allowing existing work permits, good for two years, to expire.

“For people who already have the permits, you wouldn’t take it away from them and they wouldn’t be allowed to renew it, and that gives us time to find a legislative solution,” Rubio told Politico.

Yes, that would protect current Dreamers. But it would leave thousands of others who are eligible for DACA but not currently in the program in that never-never land Trump cited. And unless the Congress moved swiftly, Dreamers whose papers expired also would be unable to renew their DACA status.

The worst option would be for Trump to immediately repeal DACA before coming up with a replacement. Politically, it would mean further alienating Hispanics from the GOP — a move that ultimately could threaten Republicans’ political futures. Most importantly, it would be immoral to assign these talented taxpaying people — who are as American as the next guy in most every way — to the shadows of society.

We urge Trump to keep protections in place for Dreamers so they don’t wake up in a nightmare.

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