Thursday, September 7, 2017

The End of DACA and the Need for Congress to Enact Immigration Reform

Here is some commentary on the rescission of DACA.

After months of speculation and rumor that has frightened immigrant communities across the United States, President Trump has announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Known as DACA, the program since 2012 has provided relief, and work authorization, to nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. 

            The end of DACA has been met with expressions of nothing less than grief and a firestorm of bipartisan criticism.  Indeed, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) lobbied the President not to end DACA.  In the coming weeks, the nation is likely to see protests and calls for political action.

            It is worth remembering that President Obama created DACA after Congress for years had failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform.  As President Obama emphasized, the deferred action program was a limited, and temporary, response to congressional gridlock on immigration.  Even though DACA in my estimation was a constitutional and eminently sensible approach to a most sympathetic cohort of immigrants, there may be a silver lining in President Trump’s dismantling of DACA:  He is delaying the end of the program for six months.  That gives Congress a chance to act to offer enduring protections for the DREAMers and even could spur on more far-reaching immigration reform.  Such reform is just what this nation needs in these troubled times.

            In light of the fact that virtually all agree that the current immigration system is broken, Democratic and Republican political leaders should welcome the opportunity to reconsider immigration reform.  One of the primary objections to DACA, and the proposed expansion known as DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) announced by President Obama in 2014 but scuttled by the courts, was that Congress was the appropriate branch of government to provide relief to undocumented immigrants.   Whether one buys that argument or not, Congress now must act if DACA recipients are to be protected.

            Indeed, this is a historic opportunity for Congress to act and to enact meaningful, lasting, and fair immigration reform.  Such a package, like that passed by the Senate in 2013 but never voted on by the House of Representatives, includes some kind of path to legalization for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, reform of legal immigration provisions to make our immigration laws consistent with 21st century labor needs, and enforcement measures.

            The most recent immigration reform proposal on the table unfortunately would not solve the problems but indeed would make them worse.  During the summer, President Trump expressed support for immigration reform in the form of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, cosponsored by Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Purdue (R-Ga). The Act would drastically reshape American immigration but, in so doing, the RAISE Act will likely increase, not decrease, pressures for undocumented immigration.

            Approximately a 1 million immigrants are granted lawful permanent residence annually. Visas allocated based on family members in the United States comprise about two-thirds of the annual total. The top five countries of birth for new immigrants in 2015 were Mexico, China, India, the Philippines, and Cuba. 1

            The RAISE Act would cut the annual immigrant admissions by one-half. The bill would eliminate all family sponsorship beyond spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and LPRs, and would reduce various family categories from 226,000 green cards to 88,000. The cuts to family-based immigration would affect immigrants from a select few countries.

            The RAISE also would change the system for employment-based lawful immigration. Under the current system, most employment based immigrants are reserved to the highly skilled. Besides dramatically reducing family-based immigration, the RAISE Act would replace the current selection scheme with a points system in which applicants would earn points based on:

  • a relatively high-paying job offer, with more points for a higher salary
  • High English test scores
  • Age, with those closest to age 25 earning the most points
  • Educational attainment, with more points for degrees earned in the United States, and for advanced degrees in a STEM field
  • Investing at least $1.35 million in the United States
  • Extraordinary achievement, such as winning a Nobel Prize or being an Olympic-caliber athlete

The bill also seeks to eliminate the Diversity Visa program and further caps refugee admissions, cutting back lawful immigration by 100,000 a year.

           In total, the RAISE Act would lead to an overall reduction of legal immigration by 50 percent over the next decade. That would exacerbate the current problem of undocumented immigration. Because of unrealistic restrictions on legal immigration in the current laws, the United States has roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. This is especially the case because the merit-based system will not address the high demand in the United States for low- and medium-skilled workers, which many undocumented immigrants perform today in the agricultural, construction, and service industries.

            President Trump’s elimination of DACA provides Congress with a historic opportunity for immigration reform. And DACA recipients desperately need relief. But, more generally, the nation needs more far-reaching immigration reform that is fair, enforceable, and lives up to the nation’s ideals.


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