SAN DIEGO — Immigrant rights advocates recently marked the one-year anniversary of the government program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
So it’s time to do three things: understand what DACA is and isn’t; evaluate the illegal immigrants whom it was meant to help, i.e., the estimated 1.5 million DREAMers brought to the United States as children by their parents; and take stock of the legislation at the center of all this – the DREAM Act, which would have given legal status to young people who went to college or joined the military had it not died in the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2010.
First, DACA is not an executive order issued by President Barack Obama that would have the force of law and require some effort to overturn. It is merely a temporary change in policy at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is run by the Department of Homeland Security. House Republicans recently approved an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to a DHS appropriations bill that would essentially end DACA.
Adding to the drama, the DHS is not an honest broker. By the end of 2013, the agency is expected to have deported as many as 2 million people. Why would anyone apply for a program that requires telling ICE their name, home address and names of parents and siblings who are also undocumented?
More than 150,000 DACA applications have been approved to date. Successful applicants are given a work permit, and, for two years, they can continue to live in the United States without being deported. Yet no one knows what happens after that grace period ends.
Besides, the administration doesn’t even respect its own program. There are disturbing stories – circulated often by grassroots immigrant rights groups such as Presente.org and Cuentame – of young people who obtained DACA protection and still got a deportation order. Immigration lawyers have warned me that, without immigration reform, DACA is just a paper shield.
As for the DREAMers, many of them have issues. No one knows what to do with them. Their conundrum is that they insist they did nothing wrong since they were brought here involuntarily. But they are also reluctant to complete the thought and admit who broke the law to bring them here – their parents.
The good news: Raised in the United States, they are, for all intents and purposes, Americans. The bad news: Many of them have marinated for years in the same juices as the rest of America’s youth – demanding rights but ignoring responsibilities, plagued by narcissism, fawned over and convinced that they are special and entitled.
I’ve said this before, hoping to give DREAMers a wakeup call. It worked with some, but others hit the snooze button.
No matter. Someone needs to tell the truth about a subset of the illegal immigrant population who – with help from the media, self-serving 501(c)3 organizations, and Democratic politicians – now see themselves as the princes and princesses of the undocumented world.
Finally, concerning the DREAM Act itself, the spirit of the legislation lives on in the Senate immigration bill proposed by the Gang of Eight. The bill would require most undocumented immigrants to wait 10 years for legal permanent residency, but it cuts the wait time in half to five years for DREAMers.
Why? When the DREAM Act was first introduced in the Senate in 2001, the idea made sense. Congress wasn’t going near immigration reform. The thinking was that the ship was sinking and there should be a lifeboat. The DREAM Act was it. Now, in 2013, Congress is debating an immigration bill that could legalize as many as 11 million people. So there is no need for lifeboats. What makes DREAMers more important than millions of other hardworking illegal immigrants who aren’t going to college or joining the military?
The DREAM Act is an idea whose time has come – and gone. In hindsight, the bill was always snobby and divisive. It would have put those who went to college in front of those who went to work or opted for vocational school. It would have divided families.
DACA hasn’t lived up to the billing. The DREAMERS aren’t as special as they think they are. And the DREAM Act doesn’t look as good as it once did.
Where does that leave us? The same place we were in 2001, before we began this telenovela – in need of real immigration reform that isn’t elitist and doesn’t play favorites.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.