Scott MacKay Commentary: Protect the DACA Kids

Sep 8, 2017

President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking to reverse the Obama administration’s policy of deferring deportation of young immigrants brought to this country illegally as children.  

RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay questions this move. 

President Donald Trump has ordered an end to an Obama-era executive order that shields young people in the United States illegally. Many of these people are adults who were brought here as children by their parents.

This proposal is wrong on so many levels it’s difficult to know where to start the criticism. Put yourself in in the place of one of these people.

So you were brought here from a dusty back road in Mexico  before you learned to walk. You attended American schools and  worked to help your struggling family. Perhaps you worked so hard that you got into college or joined the military. You stayed out of trouble with the law. You speak English well, but may not even know the language of your birth country.

You’re 18 or 19 years old, studying hard and paying for college without the help your classmates –born in the United States – get from Pell grants.  You’re not eligible for public health care or such safety net programs as food stamps.

Now, to satisfy his political voter base, the president has decided you should go to a country you have never lived in. You may not know a soul there.

Since when do we visit upon children the sins of their parents? The United States, the child of the Enlightenment, was born of ideas, not ethnic, racial or creed identity. This is a reason so many of us were frightened by the sight of neo-Nazis screaming “blood and soil” marching in Charlottesville.

Immigration has never been easy, even in New England, where Massachusetts and Rhode Island have long been laboratories for assimilating those from foreign lands. In the myth of family legend and nostalgia, the descendants of European and Canadian immigrants all came to our nation legally, learned English overnight and stepped off a boat or train into the middle class.

In reality, there was practically no such person as an illegal immigrant until the 1920s, when the white, Protestant majority, alarmed at thousands of immigrants from southern Europe, persuaded Congress to slam shut the immigrant door, particularly from Italy, Greece and other southern European countries. That policy lasted until the 1960s, when Congress, with leadership roles from senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rhode Island’s Claiborne Pell, pried the door back open.

New England has become a region of low birthrates and an aging population. The economy is improving, but there is still a lack of skilled and educated workers.  Why would we want to chase away thousands of young people with drive who are learning new skills despite all the obstacles in their paths?

President Obama’s policy of deferring deportations wasn’t the perfect way of protecting what have come to be known as dreamers. It was done by executive order when it should have been approved by Congress. It was done in a blush of desperation when Republicans in Washington, D.C. backed out of a comprehensive plan to overhaul an antiquated immigration system and provide a path to citizenship for people living in the shadows.

Yes, citizens want the laws enforced and the borders protected. And they want immigration rules that are imposed fairly and consistently.

But the Trump proposal seems like a solution seeking a problem. Just what is our country trying to achieve by booting out law-abiding children brought here unlawfully by their parents?

Immigration should be the province of the federal government. But a refusal to act by Congress means that states and cities may have to step in. States could start by making it more difficult for federal immigration agents to go to college campuses without warrants. Communities can approve ordinances that limit cooperation with immigration officials, as the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has urged.

While Democrats of just about every stripe favor codifying the status of dreamers, many Republicans have been slow to get on board. They need to listen to Scott Avedisian, the Republican mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island’s second largest city.

“We need these kids. Most of them are well-educated with a great work ethic,” says Avedisian.

Now might be a good time to heed the words of Franklin Roosevelt, who told the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1938, “remember, remember, that all of us, and you I specifically, are descended from Immigrants and revolutionists.’

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political reporting and commentary at our On Politics blog at RIPR.org