In Defense of DACA: An Appeal to Utility, Morality, and Constitutionality

by Cathy Walters

DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was an executive order the Obama administration implemented in 2012. This policy protected a segment of undocumented immigrants called the “Dreamers” from deportation and granted them the opportunity to obtain a work permit. On September 5, 2017, President Trump stated that the executive order would expire in six months. Trump justified the actions as means of correcting Obama’s executive authority overreach and asserted that it is the role of Congress to determine immigration policy.

The repeal clearly appeals to his anti-immigrant constituents: it perfectly fits Trump’s anti-immigration narrative established in his entire presidential campaign.

On the other hand, some have characterized Trump’s repealing of DACA as a blessing in disguise. They argue that Trump’s actions consequently place significant pressure on Congress to enact new immigration policy, policy that has the potential to reflect the protections granted through DACA. Yet Trump’s decision to repeal DACA should not be praised solely because it presents the possibility of new immigration policy.

The fundamental flaw of Trump’s decision to repeal DACA is that his action precedes any comprehensive Congressional immigration legislation with similar protections. It illustrates his administration’s desire to have an impact, any impact, regardless of the costs. Accordingly, this action is nothing more than a reckless and self-interested act that places the livelihood of countless Dreamers in danger. Given the current makeup of Congress, it is possible for DACA to be passed in both the House and the Senate, but would require cooperation between both parties. With cooperation comes compromise, meaning that it is likely for Dreamers to lose rights through policy negotiations. The issue here lies with the uncertainty regarding the rights of a significant portion of members in American society.

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The blatant absurdity of deporting Dreamers to their country of origin could be framed as an issue of utility and national interest. By deporting Dreamers, we are essentially deporting valuable high-skilled Americans, individuals who have and will positively contribute to our nation. Under DACA, Dreamers have already received undergraduate and graduate degrees, began businesses, and stimulated the United States economy.

To place such an important segment of society at risk clearly reveals where our president’s values lie.

Rather than assessing the merit of the Dreamers, they are being punished for decisions made in their childhood that they had no control over. As a general moral principle, it is wrong to chastise individuals for characteristics and circumstances that are not in their control. Under this principle, it is wrong for President Trump to exploit the rights of Dreamers by repealing DACA prior to passing protective legislation. Furthermore, many Dreamers are currently adults, with their lives well-grounded in American society. Upheaving a Dreamer’s life to a country unfamiliar to them is a sanction far too severe given their circumstances.

Trump’s standard for evaluating of executive overreach is inconsistent, as he as made no hesitation to implement 32 executive orders within the first 100 days of his presidency. It is hypocritical for Jeff Sessions or President Trump to state that DACA is an unconstitutional exercise of executive overreach as if it is a matter of fact, when there has been no legal precedent by the Supreme Court that would strike down an executive order similar to DACA. While Trump can disagree with DACA for political reasons, it is the role of the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of laws, not his.

Trump’s administration simply declaring that a previous executive order was unconstitutional is in itself an issue of executive overreach.

Apart from Trump’s contradictory justification for repealing DACA, Michael Tran, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, has argued that DACA is constitutional under the Faithful Execution Clause. By passing DACA, the Obama administration utilized the executive power to ensure the faithful execution of immigration laws and that DACA is compatible with the execution of immigration law given our country’s extensive history in granting deferred action to immigrants in special circumstances.

As a nation, we must hold correct convictions of morality and fairness, if not for our own interest as a nation. Furthermore, the constitutionality of DACA is not for President Trump nor Jeff Sessions to declare for political reasons, it is a power that lies in the judiciary. The rights of Dreamers should not be as negotiable or uncertain as they are now under Trump’s suspension of DACA.  The previous legal protections granted to Dreamers through DACA must be upheld and expanded.

Cathy Walters is a senior Political Science major at Trinity University and a co-president of Trinity Progressives.


The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no institutional positions on matters of policy or opinion. Read the anti-DACA article in this series.

The cover photo above was taken by Pax Ahimsa Gethen and is under a CC BY-SA 4.0.

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