While rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, fits comfortably into the thematic vision of “America First” that resonates so well with President Donald Trump’s voter base, in reality the far-reaching ramifications of this anti-immigration decision are devastating and deeply undermine American values.
The move will affect the United States economically and culturally by removing a group of about 800,000 high-achieving, hardworking, young members of our communities. Additionally, the U.S. will again find itself on the moral low-ground as we potentially deport non-criminal taxpayers to countries they’ve never truly known and away from the only place they’ve ever called home.
But if those two points are not reason enough to compel congressional and executive action to halt this terrible decision, a third argument should weigh heavily on their minds. Getting rid of DACA will create a direct negative effect for hundreds of veterans and active service members who have and continue to risk their lives for our communities. Furthermore, with Trump eager to expand the numbers of our military as he views size as a projection of might, why, then, would it make sense to remove a population of capable, virtually trouble free young people such as Dreamers from volunteering to serve? To put it bluntly, this decision makes us less safe.
DACA is an Executive Order issued by President Barack Obama five years ago that temporarily eliminates possible deportation for individuals who meet the requisite criteria:
(1) That they were brought to this country as children arriving prior to their sixteenth birthday;
(2) That they were under age 31 and had no valid immigration status on June 15, 2012;
(3) That they have continuously resided in the United States between June 15, 2007 and the present;
(4) That they are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or were honorably discharged from the Armed Forces;
(5) That they have not been convicted of a felony, a “significant” misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
By design, the program is geared towards providing non-criminal, young achievers who were not brought here of their own volition an opportunity to remain in the U.S. safely while continuing to further themselves and enrich the communities in which they reside. Military service is specifically identified in the DACA requirements for its constructive value to society. It’s included partially because of Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI), a program that places individuals with critical skill sets the military needs on a faster track for U.S. citizenship. Given that one of the pre-requisites to qualify for DACA is honorable discharge from the Armed Forces, these two programs were inherently intertwined. MAVNI allowed for military enrollment while DACA provided these young and talented people a path to citizenship. Tighter review processes implemented by the Trump administration for MAVNI led to an internal review that recommended the program be dissolved, leaving roughly a 1,000 men and women in the lurch. As former Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby stated in a recent piece, “more than 10,000 people have been recruited under the program. They serve all over the world and have contributed to operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Asia-Pacific hotspots. And their number includes a US Olympic silver medalist, a Secret Service officer, a nuclear energy fellow at MIT and the US Army’s 2012 Soldier of the Year.” Yes, among MAVNI’s success stories was SGT Saral K. Shrestha the Army’s 2012 soldier of the year, a Nepalese naturalized citizen.
Beyond the MAVNI recruits who have been affected, though, estimates place Dreamer military service at approximately 900 veterans and current service members. When including the men and women left with the uncertainty of MAVNI’s potential cancelation, in total, then, nearly 2,000 people who have served or wish to serve in uniform now find their futures in an uncertain position. Following the announcement that Trump wished to cancel the program, the president made the situation even more chaotic, calling on Congress to do something to undo his own decision to abandon DACA. Now, the military service members whose futures are in jeopardy have to wait with the rest of the country to see how this plays out over the next six months. But some non-residents can’t afford to take chances, choosing to seek asylum in Canada rather than be deported back to dangerous countries where their lives would be threatened.
If we can’t base the idea of providing for this group of people on solid economic or moral grounds, we must see the value in ensuring that able-bodied, intelligent, and motivated young people who view America as their home be allowed to serve within our ranks. These diligent patriots are force multipliers who, at a very young age, navigated childhood in foreign lands and consequently often understand multiple languages and cultures, not for the sake of academic prowess but rather for survival. Why would we turn that talent away? Furthermore, what will happen to these teenagers that we send back to unstable, war torn countries without the proper, if any, support network? We send them to a new area they don’t know well, forcing these young people to struggle and find their own way. It leaves them vulnerable to groups with ill intentions.
If we cannot reasonably articulate and address the answers to these questions with our hearts, we must do so with our heads. Cutting Dreamers out of our country and our lives just doesn’t make sense. It’s not a part of the American Dream, and it undercuts our security and military readiness.
Image: Department of Defense