By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR
This week we’re taking a trip down memory lane and celebrating how two years ago, young people across the country came forward and began applying for work permits and temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. DACA has allowed young people who meet certain criteria to come forward and continue the contributions they have been making to the country they call home. As a new report from the Migration Policy Institute states, more than 587,000 people have received DACA.
If we continued our trip down memory lane, we would see that there was a time when some Republicans in the House of Representatives weren’t attacking DREAMers and trying to take away their temporary relief. In 1999, Congressman Lamar Smith (R–Texas) and others were urging Attorney General Reno to use prosecutorial discretion and to intervene on behalf of immigrants who were facing deportation. Brian Beutler describes those times in The New Republic today. In the article, Beutler links to a letter (below) from Smith and concludes that Smith’s argument could be applied today and that “you could use the same language to push the Obama administration to initiate or expand a program like DACA.”
Attorneys, law school professors, and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, among others, have stated recently that the president has the ability to act to protect people from deportations. In an op-ed this week, immigration attorney David Leopold wrote, “Critics like to say that the availability of employment authorization or the use of forms and fees pushes the DACA process or its expansion over the blurry line from lawful discretion to executive lawlessness. But they conveniently forget (or are not aware) that the president’s authority to authorize employment of immigrants is long-standing and already well-established in the law.”
As we have learned from DACA, allowing individuals who have been in the United States, contributing and removing the daily fear of deportation from their lives, is a transformative experience. More than half a million young people are now able to obtain work permits, allowing them to earn and contribute more than before, and they are able to get drivers licenses and state IDs that allow them to feel as though they are finally being recognized. Given that House Republican leadership has failed to provide a needed solution that the American public supports, President Obama must act to provide relief. As he said, the American people don’t want him twiddling his thumbs, and doing nothing is untenable. Reform is imperative and it can be achieved partly by means other than legislation.