DACA will not suffice to protect immigrants

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Undocumented immigrants deserve pathway to citizenship, legal protections

Illustration of a group of protesters moving across a map of the United States, Washington, D.C., distant in the background
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

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Many Americans suffer from a sort of collective historical amnesia: We forget all too often that we are a nation of immigrants. But not everyone has that luxury.

On June 18, the Supreme Court ruled that insufficient reasoning had been given to rescind the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children could at last breathe a sigh of relief, as the temporary legal status they’ve enjoyed since 2012 is secure — for now.

With DACA’s survival, however, the nation might turn its attention elsewhere, thinking immigrants safe. That would be a mistake. Tireless activism — often including the work of California students — kept DACA and immigrants’ rights in the public eye, and without activists’ efforts, the legal rights of undocumented immigrants may fade from focus, threatening the tenuous protections on which millions rely.

Currently, no “Dreamer,” and likely none of their families, can be sure of their future. Bills paving a pathway to citizenship died in Congress in 2013 and 2019, and among border walls, travel bans and brutal separation of immigrant families, the current climate for immigrants is more terrifying than it’s been in generations. The nonrescission of a temporary program does little to change that fact.

Despite being frequent scapegoats for the country’s woes, immigrants contribute profoundly to the nation’s health. The Supreme Court rightly noted that DACA recipients own homes and businesses, raise children and earn college degrees, all while paying $60 billion in annual taxes. The United States’ xenophobic impulses are thus plainly self-defeating: Immigrants belong to thriving neighborhoods and strong economies, and our nation would be diminished without them.

Small wonder, then, that an overwhelming majority of Americans support DACA. Of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States today, a majority have lived here for more than a decade, putting down roots and contributing to their communities.

California, among other states, has offered special protections and relief for undocumented immigrants, but special initiatives and temporary programs such as DACA are not enough. Living in the shadows endangers the health, safety and prosperity of millions, and it is time for the nation to see and treat immigrants for what they are: our coworkers, our neighbors and our friends.

To best help itself — and to help immigrant families — the United States therefore shouldn’t merely establish a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Congress must improve health protections for undocumented immigrants, expand visa programs, welcome refugees en masse and crack down on businesses’ exploitation of undocumented workers. The Statue of Liberty welcomes “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and to live up to our founding ideals, we must uphold that sacred promise.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2020 opinion editor, Aidan Bassett.