The Compassion Behind Ending DACA

By Benjamin Dierker on September 10, 2017

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was an overreach by the executive, a violation of the separation of powers, and a degradation of law. President Obama did not have the authority or the political mandate to implement it and he knew that full well. From a purely legal standpoint, it had to be ended in its current form. Congress is the only body with the vested right to produce legislation, according to the U.S. Constitution.

Trying to see past the emotionally charged rhetoric, there are three reasons that it is actually compassionate to end DACA: legality, domestic immigrants, and illegal immigrants.

Legally, when laws are abused or ignored, further abuse is almost guaranteed. The only way to preserve equality under the law is to respect and protect law itself. We are a nation of laws and not of men precisely so that tyrants cannot harm the rights of citizens through executive action irrespective of the people's law. If the president can unilaterally violate law, then he can do even more dangerous and harmful things.

On the domestic side, DACA disrespects hardworking legal immigrants and native-born Americans. By protecting childhood arrivals, DACA legitimizes the decision of the children's parents to cut the line and disregard the legal process for immigrating. Not only is this not compassionate to the legal immigrants, but it merely kicked an issue further down the road, locking the childhood arrivals into further uncertainty and luring them into comfort when they were truly vulnerable the whole time. To hear President Obama explain it then, "This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It is not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure." As a temporary measure, it was intended to allow short-term relief for childhood arrivals to finish their degrees, seek legitimate channels of residency, or make preparations for voluntary departure. It also served to prompt Congress to find a permanent solution, but it actually served as a replacement for a solution from Congress. This short-term goal was, in the best light, compassionate, as it allowed DREAMers to plan for when DACA ended. But keeping a short-term policy in place forever is not compassionate. It perpetuates the uncertainty of status and continues to function as a pull factor for more illegal immigration.

Even Secretary Clinton supported the rule of law when she said, "We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't mean the child gets to stay. So, we don't want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey." This goes to the heart of the lack of compassion behind DACA.

While it might seem unjust in the immediate sense to deport youth based on their parents' iniquities, the program must be evaluated on a longer time scale and with a broader perspective. First of all, ending DACA does not initiate deportations. In all likelihood few of the DREAMers will ever be deported. Terminating the order only reestablishes the Department of Homeland Security's ability to execute immigration laws by deporting noncitizens with no legal basis for being in the country who are arrested. Back to the broad perspective: DACA is huge incentive for dangerous illegal immigration. It encourages the most vulnerable people in Central America to attempt a thousand-mile migration.

Misinformed parents hear that if they can make it here, their children can stay. On top of this, the parents believe they will almost certainly be allowed to stay so that we do not break up families. Because of this lie, poor and vulnerable families pay human smugglers to traffic them through Central America and Mexico and across the U.S. border. They may even pay their entire life savings and many risk serious injury or death along the way. The false promise of DACA indirectly promotes hunger, thirst, fatigue, and illness on the perilous trek across Mexico. Ultimately, many are caught in Mexico or at the U.S. border and turned around. Further, the coyotes have little regard for the people they smuggle – if they are paid up front and the package dies along the way, that's no sweat off their brow. It is not compassionate to lie to vulnerable people and cause them to embark on a life-threatening journey for a shot at an illegal existence in America.

People think ending DACA was a policy made out of order, that we should stop the flow before dealing with those already here. What those people miss is that DACA is part of the flow. We must address long-term incentives.

Whether the blame lies with President Obama for making the false promise, with President Trump for revoking it, or with Congress for inaction is still up for discussion. But the parents who made the difficult choice to violate the law also bear considerable fault for the legal peril their children are in today. The compassionate decision may not feel great in the moment, but ending the incentive for more illegal and dangerous immigration is the only compassionate option currently on the table.

Note: This post has been expanded since its original publication.