The DACA Conundrum

The DACA Conundrum

By Cynthia Zalisky

I have mixed feelings about the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. The DACA recipients are called Dreamers. President Obama created this program through executive authority in 2012. President Trump has ordered an end to this program, which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation, calling it an “amnesty-first approach” and urging Congress to pass a replacement before he begins phasing out its protections in six months. As of March, some of the 800,000 young adults brought to the US illegally as children who qualify for the program will be eligible for deportation. The five-year-old policy has allowed them to remain without fear of immediate removal from the country and gives them the right to work legally. Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security will not accept new applications for the program. The six-month delay was intended to give Congress enough time to replace the program with a permanent legislative solution.

President Trump and Attorney General Sessions announced the change, arguing that those who are illegally in this country are lawbreakers who hurt native-born Americans by usurping their jobs and pushing down wages. I think that argument is nonsense and discriminatory. The Dreamers were brought into the US unwittingly by their parents as minors and are amongst the brightest youngsters we have in this country. America is the only country they have ever known, and they are very patriotic and devoted to this country. DACA recipients are largely educated, productive, and beneficial to the American economy – unlike many native-born young people, who are involved in criminal activity and drug addiction.

According to recent research, Dreamers have started their own businesses at twice the rate of the general American population, 46% are currently in school, 83% are working and earning their education, and 70% are pursuing their BA degrees or higher.

In order to qualify for DACA, the applicants must comply with the following criteria: They must be enrolled or completed a course of study whether they are currently learning in an academic program or trade school, or have earned a high school diploma, or have gotten their GED or have completed military service. The Dreamers are vetted to ensure that they have not been convicted of a felony or any other substantial crime, and must be living in the US since 2007. DACA gives participants a two-year deferral, which can be renewed, from being considered for deportation, and also grants work authorization.

While there are serious legal issues with the way Obama executed and established DACA by overstepping his constitutional authority, Trump has said that “the onus was now on lawmakers to protect the young immigrants as part of a broader overhaul of the immigration system that would also toughen enforcement.” President Trump, in a tweet, called on Congress to “legalize DACA.” He went on to write, “I have a love for these people. And hopefully now Congress will be able to help them.”

If a rational solution isn’t implemented, deporting the Dreamers would be extraordinarily expensive and a bureaucratic nightmare

As expected, protests broke out in front of the White House and the Justice Department, and in cities across the country, soon after the announcement. Democrats and some Republicans, business executives, college presidents, and immigration activists condemned the move as coldhearted and shortsighted and said it was unfair to the young immigrants and could harm the economy.

If a rational solution isn’t implemented, deporting the Dreamers would be extraordinarily expensive and a bureaucratic nightmare. It would be a mass expulsion of an entire generation of kids and young adults. Many have been here most of their lives, educated in America, and many have been honorably discharged from our military. They deserve better.

A San Francisco-based US District Court judge, William Alsup, ordered the Trump administration to resume accepting renewal applications for the DACA program. Unless halted by a higher court (which most legal authorities predict will happen), the ruling will allow former DACA recipients who failed to renew by the Obama deadline of October 5 a chance to submit renewal applications and will also allow renewal applications expiring in the future. The decision does not require officials to accept new applications for DACA status. The Trump administration will definitely seek a stay of the ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. This is merely a delaying tactic on the part of the court.

The Justice Department has already announced that they will continue to “vigorously defend its position on DACA and looks forward to vindicating it in further litigation.” There is some movement in Congress to seek a compromise using the DACA problem as a means to build a wall surrounding the Southern border tier of the country, preventing illegals from entering the US and  disallowing chain migration and the Diversity Visa Lottery system that has accounted for many immigrants entering without any vetting.

I have a special affinity for the Dreamers. As a child of survivors who had a difficult time coming to America legally after the War, having to travel to one country after another to seek entry, due to the US quota system, I appreciate the difficulties immigrants have to attain permission to settle in the US.

I remember the day my parents came to the judge to receive their citizenship. I was all of five, and the judge took special delight in this little first grader leading my parents in the Pledge of Allegiance. I was so proud! Being American meant everything to my family, and I know the Dreamers feel the same way. They deserve the right to stay in this country permanently and help, as the President always says, to “make America great again!”

Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at


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