Only Congress can save innocent Dreamers now

The Observer editorial board

“We have come out of the shadows only to be in more danger,” said Flor Reyes,who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 2.
“We have come out of the shadows only to be in more danger,” said Flor Reyes,who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 2. AP

So often, political battles in Washington can seem like bureaucratic tussles far removed from our everyday lives. Not the fight over DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

President Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he will rescind the program will have a very real impact on 800,000 innocent people, including some 28,000 in North Carolina.

No state may have more on the line than North Carolina as Trump erases America’s policy on so-called Dreamers. North Carolina had the nation’s highest application rate in the program’s first two years.

Dreamers are people who came to the United States when they were children. They were brought by their undocumented parents and had no say in the matter. They have never known another country, and most have grown up to be responsible students, hard workers and contributing, taxpaying members of society.

President Obama’s creation of DACA in June 2012 gave these now young adults the ability to further their education, get jobs, drive legally and not live in constant fear of deportation to some country they know nothing about. Trump’s phase-out puts their lives in turmoil. They’ll never know if today is the day they are separated from friends, family and work.

We were uncomfortable with Obama setting immigration policy by executive fiat, as we wrote in this space at the time. Congress is the body responsible for passing laws, and while its failure to do so prompted Obama to act out of desperation, that was never the ideal approach.

Obama himself said at the time that DACA was “a temporary stopgap measure” and “precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act.”

So here we are. Whether Trump is eliminating DACA because of a deep loyalty to separation of powers or as a craven play to his base is almost beside the point. (And it would be a play only to the base; polls show DACA is popular, with a recent one showing 76 percent of Americans supportive, including 69 percent of Republicans.)

Either way, the fate of those 800,000 people now rests with Congress. Given that body’s listless track record on immigration, it’s hard to be too optimistic that it will suddenly act now.

But saving the Dreamers makes for both sound policy and, for a majority of senators and representatives, smart politics. Leaders of both parties vowed Tuesday to pursue a fix.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, expressed hope that Congress would resolve the immigration issue in a way that protects Dreamers. Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin to pitch their Dream Act. Sen. Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican, said he’ll introduce a bill in the next week that would make DACA permanent.

So there is hope. (Though not with Charlotte’s own Rep. Robert Pittenger, who vowed to end “ongoing subterfuge of strong immigration policy.”)

An infant in the backseat of a getaway car is not charged with accessory to armed robbery. Dreamers shouldn’t pay for their parents’ choices, either. Congress needs to protect them, and fast.