3 reasons why Congress should not wait to pass DACA legislation

November 28, 2017

Next week marks three months since the President announced the ending of the DACA program. At the time of the announcement—which incited the fears of immigrant families across the country—there seemed to be somewhat of a bipartisan resolve to quickly seek a legislative solution. Unfortunately, it appears that resolve has now waned amidst a growing to-do list of end-of-year exigencies.

But, here are three reasons why Congress should pass DACA legislation right now:

1. Executive action (un)constitutionality does not obviate congressional responsibility

The Trump administration has made it clear that it is up to Congress to pass a legislative fix. The ongoing contestation over President Obama’s executive action, which created the program, is all but irrelevant at this point. After all, the congressional debate on dreamers began not in 2012, but in 2001 with the original Hatch-Cantwell DREAM Act. While complex political realities are often blamed for the delay, the fact remains that at least 16 years have passed, resulting in an ironic, ever-widening gap between dreamers and a legislative solution. To be sure, Congress has not been completely bereft of legislative language to work with. At this moment, between the House and Senate, there are a total of at least six bills that have been sponsored to address the issue. And while not all options are created equal, there is enough reasonable language and enough reasonable-minded legislators to get this done before the end of the year.

2. There is a moral imperative to act

Many people realize that this issue is not merely about public policy. How we choose to handle this situation speaks to who/where we are as a country. It speaks to a kind of moral imagination at work—one that will either be found consistent or inconsistent with our professed ideals as a nation. Among the many laudable efforts of advocacy, I was encouraged to see evangelical leaders articulate support for dreamers. As a Christian, just and compassionate treatment of our immigrant neighbors who bear the image of God does not seem too much to ask for (nor is it, by necessity, incompatible with respect for the rule of law). People of all faiths and of no faith comprehend the injustice in punishing children for the infractions committed by their parents. Dreamers constitute a special category of immigrants, many having lived, worked, and studied here their entire lives. They’ve paid taxes, they’ve started businesses, and they’ve contributed to the flourishing of their families and communities.

3. Time has already run out

Contrary to popular opinion on Capitol Hill, President Trump’s six-month delay does not necessarily mean a March deadline. According to an infographic created by the National Immigration Forum and the Niskanen Center, a legislative fix could take several months to implement. What this delay would mean is that, come March, thousands of immigrants would lose legal status every week. Therefore, a legislative solution should be sought sooner rather than later. Of course, legislators could proactively make a deferment of deportation proceedings integral to any considered legislation. While appreciating the irony of such “deferred action,” I’m sure DACA recipients would simply be glad to finally be granted the opportunity to call home, home.

Steven Harris

Steven Harris holds a B.S. in Religion from Vanderbilt University, an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.A. in Religion from Yale University, and is currently a PhD student in the Study of Religion at Harvard University. He previously served as a Policy Director for the ERLC. Steven … Read More