Which America are we?
Are we the idealistic America depicted by this famous words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?
Or, are we the ideological America that says the law must be upheld, even if the law is outdated and unfair?
The Trump administration’s announcement that DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals) program would end in six months will force America to make that decision sooner rather than later.
DACA is an immigration policy established by President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order. DACA makes certain illegal immigrants, who entered the country as minors, free from the threat of deportation and eligible for work permits for renewable two-year periods.
Many of the immigrants covered by DACA were brought to this country as young children by their parents. The number of immigrants receiving DACA protection is estimated at somewhere between 750,000 and 800,000.
On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo, calling DACA unconstitutional. On Tuesday, the administration announced the Department of Homeland Security would no longer accept applications for DACA protection.
As for the claims DACA is unconstitutional, at this point, it is the opinion of some in the administration. The policy has yet to be tested in court.
But, there is one thing for certain -- the majority of Americans don’t favor ending DACA.
In an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll conducted last week, 64 percent of respondents said they supported DACA. And, 71 percent said they supported allowing undocumented immigrants already working here to stay legally.
Tuesday’s announcement hardly came as a surprise. Although the president remained tight-lipped about his intentions last week, leaks in Washington indicated the administration would phase out the program.
The Southern Illinois Immigrants’ Rights Project was prepared, holding an 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. vigil at the Gaia House in Carbondale. The vigil was followed by a 6:30 p.m. rally.
And, although the president received broad support in Southern Illinois during the 2016 election, we’ve seen local cracks in the tough line on immigration the administration has drawn. Earlier this year, West Frankfort, and Franklin County, rallied to the defense of Juan Carlos Hernandez-Pacheco, the owner of the La Fiesta restaurant in West Frankfort.
That’s the dilemma facing America right now.
The tough line on immigration is wildly popular in some political spheres. But, the experience of Hernandez-Pacheco has shown that dealing with generalities is markedly different than seeing a well-known, respected member of the community being deported.
The decision to phase out DACA is a political move by the Trump administration to pressure Congress to re-write immigration laws. On one level, that is perfectly acceptable. Under the United States Constitution, that is the charge given to the legislative body.
If it were only that simple.
Unfortunately, the decision to phase out DACA also places undue pressure on those 750,000 to 800,000 people whose only “crime” was to be a child when their parents came to America illegally. The onus should not be on them. The onus should be on Congress to right the wrong without threat to DACA recipients.
Some of the DACA recipients facing possible deportation currently serve in the United States military. A total of 359 so-called “Dreamers” enlisted in the military in 2016.
A poll taken by the University of California last month indicated that 93 percent of DACA recipients older than age 25 are employed. Five percent of those covered by DACA older than 25 have started their own business.
Just as importantly, this isn’t an issue clearly delineated by party lines. Several high-ranking Republicans — including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Jeff Flake and Florida governor Rick Scott — have spoken out against rescinding DACA.
It is time America makes a decision. It is time to take nearly 800,000 people out of limbo. It’s our hope the America that emerges is embodied by the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty.