Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette | DACA demonstrates smart self-interest

On Sept. 5, President Donald Trump gave Congress notice that he was going to end the DACA program in March, and asked Congress to legislate a replacement.

The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was put in place in 2012 by President Barack Obama and focused on one small segment of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, those brought into the U.S. as minors and often referred to as Dreamers. Across the nation 799,077 persons have met DACA requirements, and in Arkansas the number with DACA approval is 9,354, according to a March 2017 report of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The DACA program has shielded those approved from deportation proceedings and made them eligible for work permits. Recipients have had to be continuous residents of the U.S. since 2007 with no felony or significant misdemeanor convictions. They also must be enrolled or have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or alternatively have been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces.

In our former roles as chancellors of university campuses in Arkansas, we met with Dreamers face to face. We understand the strong reluctance of responsible officials to excuse any noncompliance with existing rules and procedures. But we also know from experience that sometimes exceptions should be made.

Recent national polls show strong majority support for giving legal status to the Dreamers in spite of the fact that they are “undocumented,” meaning they do not hold official documents showing approval to enter the United States. Polls by Politico, Fox News, and Washington Post-ABC News all show support between 60 and 70 percent.

The Dreamers entered the U.S. as minors, brought in by the decision of someone else, usually family members. How they arrived here is one of the compelling reasons for the DACA program and for giving them permanent legal status.

Many of the Dreamers were quite young when they were brought into the United States and have little or no memory of the land in which they were born. To borrow language from the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1982 Plyler v. Doe case, to hold children accountable for what their parents do “does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.” Sending them “home” is equivalent to banishing them to a strange land, a cruel act.

Numerous religious leaders have issued statements supporting Dreamers and the DACA program. A notable example is the Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers signed by 51 evangelical leaders around the nation including four former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, among them the Rev. Ronnie Floyd of Springdale. The young Dreamers, according to these advocates, deserve to be treated generously and should be granted legal status in what as a practical matter is their homeland.

Further, beyond legal principles and moral considerations, bringing the Dreamers fully into the mainstream of the American economy would simply be enlightened self-interest. “Enlightened self-interest” is an old notion that applies when doing something that advances the interest of another also advances your own self-interest. Welcoming the Dreamers would benefit them, and it would also benefit the whole country, as two brief examples will show.

National populations are graying in economically advanced countries, including Japan, Western Europe, and the United States. The number of senior citizens has increased while birthrates have decreased. This development shifts more of the costs of government programs to younger workers and taxpayers.

For the Social Security program, the ratio of current workers to beneficiaries was 3.4 workers to 1 beneficiary in 2000. The ratio will decrease to 2.7 workers to 1 beneficiary in 2020, and to 2.1 workers to 1 in 2040, according to mid-range projections in the 2017 annual report of the Trustees of the Social Security program. The Dreamers would constitute an infusion of younger workers who for decades would pay taxes that fund important safety net programs.

On the international front, the U.S. faces a growing challenge from modernizing countries around the world. National leaders have been pressing American colleges and universities to produce more graduates because the modernizing countries are rapidly building sizable universities and gaining on the commanding lead the United States has enjoyed in the development of talent and brain-power, the most valuable economic asset of all.

What most distinguished the young Dreamers we met on our campuses was their drive to make something of themselves. They see the value of education. Many of them, as is typical of immigrants, will become innovators as they strive to provide for their families.

At the state level, the economic goals of every state, including Arkansas, call for more college graduates and more innovators. We know first-hand that many Dreamers strongly aspire to a college education though their current legal status, as defined by some states, including Arkansas, makes a college education financially beyond their reach. Other states, such as Oklahoma and Texas, have opened their college and university doors at in-state tuition rates to Dreamers who have graduated from their high schools. Congress can provide a nationwide resolution of all the legal ambiguities that affect the Dreamers.

In our judgment–and we speak for ourselves, not the institutions we once served–the case is obvious and straightforward. A program for Dreamers, such as a DACA program made permanent by congressional action, would represent enlightened self-interest. Congressional action on DACA might also break the log-jam on the harder issues of comprehensive immigration reform and effective border security.

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