Putting the threat of deportation again over the heads of productive young adults who know no home but the United States, as President Donald Trump did Tuesday, may be in keeping with the letter of the law. But despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ strained effort to argue otherwise, it’s not compassionate to throw the lives of these young people into chaos. Neither is it economically smart for the nation as a whole.
That’s why Congress should move quickly to grant legal status and a path toward citizenship for the estimated 800,000 young people — 6,300 of them in Minnesota — who arrived in this country years ago as the children of undocumented immigrants and have obeyed this nation’s laws since then.
Trump’s elimination of the five-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) temporary work permit program won’t be fully phased in until March 5, 2018. That delay is the only evidence of the “great heart” the Republican president had said he would apply to the fate of the young people often called “dreamers” in acknowledgment of their desire to share in the storied American dream. During Trump’s presidential campaign, he vowed to kill DACA, only to wait until a group of Republican state attorneys general vowed to sue the administration if it did not act.
Congress now has the chance to do what it should have done years ago for these young people and for an American economy that’s experiencing a tightening labor shortage. Congressional gridlock over the politically charged immigration issue inspired President Barack Obama’s move in 2012 to create the DACA program by executive order. At the time, we acknowledged a constitutional qualm about altering immigration policy “in this single-handed way.” We hoped then — and hope still — that Congress would see the common sense and fairness in offering a talent-rich pool of law-abiding young people a chance to study, work and contribute to this country.
That is indeed what DACA enrollees have done. A survey released last month by the Center for American Progress found that 97 percent were either employed or in school. Among those surveyed who are 25 or older, 93 percent were employed and 8 percent have started businesses, employing other Americans.
To its credit, the Minnesota Legislature has recognized the economic potential of this population. In 2013 it approved the MN Dream Act, allowing undocumented students who had attended a Minnesota high school for at least three years to qualify for in-state tuition rates and state-funded financial aid at public colleges and universities in the state. Seventeen other states — some of them Republican-dominated — have done the same.
That much state leadership should strengthen the hands of the Republicans in Congress who are ready to stand up to the xenophobes in their party for the sake of both decency and prosperity. At a minimum, Congress should put a firm legal footing under DACA, continuing the temporary program. They’ll do better still if they clear a path toward citizenship for people who already call this country home.