The Trump administration announced last week that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and kicking to Congress the responsibility to straighten out this and other immigration issues.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was created by executive order by then-President Barack Obama to address issues of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children by their parents.
The program was open to illegal immigrants brought to the United States before their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007. Applicants had to either be in school, a high school graduate or be honorably discharged from the military; under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; and have a relatively clean criminal record.
People accepted in the program were shielded from deportation, granted work permits and could qualify for travel abroad and re-entry into the United States.
Some 800,000 have qualified for the program.
Obama later tried to expand the program to include as many as 5 million illegal immigrants who had been in the country for five years and who have children born in the United States, and to children brought by their parents prior to Jan. 1, 2010.
We concede that the president has wide discretion in prosecuting deportation cases, even if applying such discretion so broadly stretches the common exercise of the authority.
The president does not have the authority to grant work permits and temporary legal status to illegal immigrants, no matter how compelling the circumstances.
The Constitution (Article 1, section 8) gives Congress sole power to “establish a uniform rule of naturalization.” Only Congress can change the law.
And so, because Obama exceeded the statutory authority embodied in immigration law, the Trump administration has suspended new applications and allowed current enrollees to apply for extensions over the next six months as Congress works to produce a legislative solution.
Like a fair number of Americans, we are sympathetic to the plight of persons brought illegally to the country as children, particularly those who have no kinship to their native land and know no other place than the United States.
At least within the bounds set up under DACA, Congress should extend to these people a path to permanent residency.
But, it should not stop there.
There are perhaps 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. The majority are economic refugees, drawn here by the promise of opportunities unavailable in their home countries. The agriculture, construction and hospitality industries have come to depend on these workers, despite their status.
We continue to believe the answer is to offer illegal immigrants temporary legal status and a path to permanent residency after 10 years if they meet strict requirements. We think the border should be secured. A viable guestworker program must be established, and employers must verify the work status of their employees.
Only Congress can change the law. Let them stay, or make them go. Keeping them forever in the shadows does not serve the rule of law.