Kelly: What’s missing from the DACA debate


Now-President Donald Trump speaks to the crowd about then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails on Sep. 13, 2016 in Clive, Iowa.

Tom Kelly

Much has been made of the Trump administration’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program, effectuated under the Obama administration, granted work authorization to and deferred the prosecution of the children of parents who entered the country illegally.

No new applications for the program will be accepted, and no renewal applications for permits expiring after March 5, 2018 will be considered. However, currently pending applications for deferred status will be considered, and existing work permits due to expire between now and March 5 can still be renewed for a two-year period.

Those who oppose the administration’s decision have rebuked it as cruel and un-American. In general, those who favor the decision have either pointed to the fact that the implementation of the program was – and is – unconstitutional, or have argued that all illegal aliens should be deported.

But the broader argument over whether or not the Trump administration made the correct decision skirts two important points.

First, the same critics of President Trump who, often rightly, deprecate him and his administration for their inability to hold firm to any political position or philosophical principles now claim that Trump’s decision to “end” DACA unequivocally spells the mass deportation of so-called “dreamers,” or beneficiaries of the DACA program.

This seems a rather peculiar and rash assumption, given that Trump has left the program in place for eight months, has taken House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s advice in tweeting reassurance to “dreamers” that he will not be scrupulously overseeing immediate or future deportations, and has reportedly agreed to a deal with Congressional Democrats – asking nothing in return – which would cement the DACA program as law. 

The reported deal is consistent with one of Trump’s tweets from two weeks ago, which read, “Congress now has six months to legalize DACA…If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

It is intellectually dishonest to simultaneously claim that Trump is a mercurial and narcissistic figure capable of changing his stance on an issue simply because a decision receives negative press coverage, while also claiming that he is a scheming mastermind, working tirelessly to find any means by which he can deport every illegal immigrant in the country.  

Second, members of both major political parties have made arguments which frame the issue as binary, insisting that “dreamers” must either all be permitted to stay in the U.S. or must all be deported. This is an intellectually shallow argument.

Why must every member of a group comprised of individuals from 24 different countries be treated exactly the same? Former President Obama’s claim that no “dreamers” should be deported “because they have done nothing wrong” is nearly as foolish an assertion as the belief that “dreamers” are all “taking” jobs, or committing an inordinate amount of crime, and must therefore be deported.

Many “dreamers” would likely meet any set of standards imposed by Congress, if a pathway to citizenship deal was reached. But it is possible that some would not. It is foolish to treat a group of individuals who each have unique life circumstances, and who have each made myriad decisions – both good and bad – throughout their lives as a lot to either be embraced wholesale, or deported, with no additional options.

Immigrants seeking to legally enter the country are treated thusly, each applicant being assessed as an individual, not simply as part of a mass of legal immigrants.

It is injudicious to ignore the distinct life choices made by individuals in order to score political points, either by arguing that deporting a single “dreamer” would be cold-hearted, or that allowing even one “dreamer” to stay would be an overt attempt to undermine legal American citizens.

The argument over the merits and drawbacks of DACA is one worth having. But only if these two matters, vital to the discussion at hand, are not dismissed.