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America’s moral verdict on ending DACA

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Demonstrators carry signs through the crowd during a rally held outside the San Francisco Federal Building on Tuesday in opposition to President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

It’s been more than five years since President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy, which confers a work permit and provides temporary relief from deportation for those who entered the country with their undocumented parents before their 16th birthday.

On Tuesday, delivering a blow that rattled this immigrant nation, the Trump administration terminated the DACA program, calling it unconstitutional. This means that the Department of Homeland Security will immediately stop processing any new applications. And the fate of 800,000 individuals, or “Dreamers,” who were brought to America as children will now be left to Congress to determine.

While it lasted, DACA was an unqualified success.

“It opened up a world of opportunities for me,” said Luis Cortez on the DACASF video, titled “Why I applied for DACA,” which was produced by San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. Others mentioned the possibility to work legally, access to opportunities and relief from the fear of being separated from family and obtaining valid documents.

Once he got his social security card, driver’s license and work permit, Irving Pinedo felt like he was finally allowed to grow up. “I felt like I was in this state of stunted adolescence, because I didn’t have access to a lot of things that you know U.S. citizens have access to.”

Something as simple as driving out to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July was a “no-no,” said Pinedo, “just because we were afraid that if we were pulled over, someone would get put into deportation proceedings.”

I want to pause here and stress the value of documents that many of us take for granted.

The symbolism of a license and social security card goes beyond validity and legality. It confers a form, a face and particular freedoms on us. It becomes our identity when we travel. It holds our history and it bears testimony to our nationality. It even holds us accountable for our character and considerations.

In a previous column, written about a year ago, I quoted Madiha Khan, a DACA applicant in her early 20s who told me about her mother who had driven Khan and her siblings to and from school for years, illegally, courting arrest every time she picked the keys up to her car, yet unable to function without driving.

An undocumented mother related how she was scared to get rides to go to the store to pick up formula for her baby.

As I write this, I worry about Cortez, Pineda, Khan and the thousands of others who applied for DACA in the last five years under the impression that it would protect them from the kind of proceedings that could very well now become reality.

As Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement, “As a country and as a government, we asked young people to step out of the shadows and participate in the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Now, this administration wants to attack them for their courageous action.”

These were children brought to America. They were kids who had no other choice. Their lives in America have been shaped by lack of choice and with this decision, the Trump administration is again taking away their choice.

With his decision to end DACA, Trump has failed the American people and his own base by not heeding good business sense, a much-touted trait that occupied center stage of his campaign messaging.

In August 2017, the Center for American Progress published the results of a national survey, authored by Tom K. Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of San Diego — the largest study to date of DACA recipients. The data showed that the DACA program has been an incredible economic success, benefiting all Americans in very tangible ways: 97 percent of DACA recipients are employed or enrolled in school; 72 percent are employed in top 25 Fortune 500 companies; 16 percent purchased their first home after receiving DACA; 65 percent purchased their first car; and the hourly wages of DACA recipients increased by 69 percent. All this adding up to a $460.3 billion contribution by DACA recipients to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next decade. Certainly, no small change.

With Tuesday’s announcement, the Trump administration has given Congress six months to come up with an alternative to DACA. But as recent events have proved, it’s difficult to get anything passed by Congress, which leaves the question, and then what?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a news briefing was unremitting in his remarks calling DACA recipients “illegal aliens” and asserting the program appropriated jobs belonging to Americans.
When it comes to appropriating jobs, how many Dreamers have become entrepreneurs creating jobs? How many have particular skill sets? How many toil in industries with worker shortages? How many work harder and longer hours? How many are giving back to American society in immeasurable ways?

The President himself appeared to distance himself from Sessions’ hard-line stance. “I have a love for these people [Dreamers] and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” Trump remarked.

Governing must be done intelligently, morally and with empathy. If any of those is missing, we are just a nation of robots. As President Obama said, “It’s about who we are as a people — and who we want to be.”

Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at jaya.padmanabhan@gmail.com. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.

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