By Kaitlyn Chan and Herman Peng
Early September, President Donald Trump announced his decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA). The program protects undocumented immigrants who came to this country at a young age, essentially preventing these people from being deported.
According to the Pew Research Center, 200,000 out of the 790,000 total Americans protected by DACA reside in California. With a significant number of DACA-protected Americans living in our home state, a focus has been placed on school districts around California to act. Recently, our very own San Mateo Unified High School District (SMUHSD) has come out against the President’s repeal of DACA, and has reiterated the District’s policy of protecting all students in SMUHSD’s seven public high schools. A copy of a statement from Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly regarding DACA can be found below.
We applaud this decision made by the School District, and firmly agree with the statement made by Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly. It is the position of this newspaper, The Mills Thunderbolt, that the DACA program must remain in some form whether in its current incarnation or in an a similar – if not identical – form passed through Congress. Furthermore, in no way should school districts in California or nationwide be allowed to report on the legal statuses of their students.
Before we look further, we must establish what DACA is and what DACA is not, due to the numerous misconceptions about the program. Specifically, we will observe some of the inaccuracies pointed out by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on September 5th, the day the DACA repeal was announced by President Trump. We will be referring to the points made by Professor Anil Kalhan, a law professor at Drexel University, who collaborated with Quartz Media to address the common misconceptions of DACA that Mr. Sessions made. We are addressing the points made by Mr. Sessions not because of any pre-conceived notions of him, but because he represents an important figure in the Trump Administration and therefore reveals the strength of these misconceptions, which permeate through the levels of government into our society. The three misconceptions we will be addressing are: 1) the difference between legal status and citizenship; 2) DACA acting as an amnesty program; and 3) the claim that DACA is cause for increased immigration of illegal minors.
Many confuse DACA as a program that provides citizenship to illegal aliens. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “[DACA] essentially provided a legal status for recipients for a renewable two-year term, work authorization, and other benefits, including participation in the social security program, to 800,000 mostly-adult illegal aliens.” This simply is not true. Nowhere in DACA are those protected by the program given status equivalent to that of a legal migrant. The Quartz article notes “DACA does not…provide permanent security for those who hold it, but simply makes their deportation a non-priority for two years. Being a DACA beneficiary also doesn’t automatically translate into getting a work permit; that has to be obtained through a separate application, as does a permit to travel abroad.” Furthermore, the rights granted to those under DACA may be rescinded at any time if certain conditions are violated.
Secondly, there is a misconception that DACA is an amnesty program. Mr. Sessions in his statement claimed DACA is a “unilateral executive amnesty.” However, again, this is not true. The defined definition of amnesty is “an official blanket pardon of all offenders who receive it,” according to Professor Kalhan. Individuals under DACA must first be eligible for amnesty, then go through a case-by-case evaluation. Furthermore, any potential results from this evaluation must be constantly renewed every two years.
Finally, many claim that DACA has led to an influx of unaccompanied minors into the US. Sessions argued that “[DACA] contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences.” Professor Kalhan’s article refutes the entire premise of this argument, countering, “This is a lie. DACA only applies to illegal immigrants who had arrived in the US prior to June 15, 2007 and have resided in the country for at least five continuous years since… It would make no sense for minors to cross the border seeking to gain status under a policy that doesn’t cover them.”
Protecting Those Under DACA
The justifications for the repeal of DACA by the President have been convoluted to say the least. Many of those opposed to the program view DACA as an overstep by the Obama administration, while others view the program, regardless of legality, to be detrimental to American society.
First, to address legal argument against DACA, we recognize the constitutional concerns regarding the way the program was implemented. DACA was signed as an executive order by President Barack Obama in 2012, as a response to the failure of Congress to pass a similar piece of legislation, the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. Those opposed to DACA argue that there are no grounds for the Executive Branch to be able to create such policy. Nonetheless, there is no clear-cut case for whether Executive power can be applied to illegal immigration. Anil Kalhan makes this point clear in the Quartz article referred above. The article writes, “The arguments that DACA isn’t constitutional are based on the US Supreme Court’s decision to stay a federal judgement on the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, a similar program to DACA… The court eventually ended up split in its decision on the case (this was before Antonin Scalia’s seat was filled, and so a tie was possible), so no legal precedent was set. While it didn’t overturn the federal ruling, the DAPA case also didn’t settle the issue of constitutionality.” Therefore, there is no legal precedent to justify an argument for or against the constitutionality of DACA. At this point, one’s take on the constitutionality of DACA can not be fully backed by Judicial authority, but is simply the individual’s interpretation of the abilities of the Executive Branch.
Furthermore, we must also observe the ethical consequences of retracting DACA. President Trump said in a statement that he was driven by a concern for “the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system,” referring to the common trope that illegal immigrants only take from America, and do not give anything back, leaving native-born citizens unjustly taken advantage of. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated this point, stating the program had “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing…illegal aliens to take those jobs.” The reality of the situation reveals that claims implying illegal immigrants take from America without giving back is false. According to a report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, immigrants cause “little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the long term.” Most economists agree illegal immigrants actually make a positive impact on the economy, as many illegal immigrants are employed into industries that are severely underemployed. Illegal immigrants are not “stealing American jobs,” as much as working in jobs Americans do not want to take. According to the Hechinger Report, a Migration Policy Institute released figures estimating that “365,000 high school students across the United States were eligible for DACA status, and that another 241,000 of DACA-eligible students were enrolled in college. Together, that’s roughly half, or 51 percent, of the DACA-eligible population of nearly 1.2 million [that are students].” A majority of students under DACA are students that are simply living as any other American, the only difference being the method by which they were brought into this country. These students had no choice in how they were raised, and punishing these students is an aberration from our idea of the American dream – that if one works hard and doesn’t cause any trouble, they can succeed.
The Thunderbolt recognizes these constitutional concerns as well as the ambiguity of the situation, and it is our position that DACA is an Executive overstep. However, we conclude a DACA-like program must be enacted, and Congress would be the legal body with the ability to pass it; however, that is with the caveat that we assume any form of DACA passed through the Legislative Branch will stay true to the premise of DACA. As there has been no demonstration that those under DACA negatively affect society, the baseline protections provided by DACA must remain in a strong form. Nonetheless, Congress has previously demonstrated an inability to pass key legislation, as demonstrated by the DREAM Act, so if executive power is required to retain DACA, that is a decision we view positively.
Where Education Should Stand
Perhaps DACA is not legally sound, and perhaps DACA is an executive overstep. However, it is not the place of the San Mateo Union High School District to determine the constitutionality of the program. The District has, and should only have, one goal in mind – looking out for the wellbeing of the students they have been charged with educating. As Superintendent Skelly promises, “Every student we serve deserves our best efforts and we are committed to their success.”
To the students who walk the halls unsure if their DACA protection will remain after their permit expires in two years, or if they will be forced to leave the country they grew up in for one that they barely know, we emphasize. Growing up as technically first-generation immigrants, while living the experience of a second-gen, feeling like an American until you learn that the lack of a certificate denies you of full American status, and knowing that others out there are pushing for your deportation is a heavy weight to grow up with. Our school district’s mission to give you an education to succeed, regardless of legal status, is evidence to allies on your side. We hope that your aspirations will not be diminished and that you will continue to stand strong amidst legal uncertainties.
To the students who walk the halls joking, whether seriously or not, about building a wall or deporting immigrants who steal American jobs, wake up. Your peers, undocumented or not, are not responsible for our government’s inability to competently address the immigration issue, and should not be subject to xenophobic suggestions or any form of intolerance any more than you should be. If misconceptions and intolerance are stemming from our government and being perpetuated by our society, educate yourself to understand the truth and know where your opinions are coming from. At the very least, show compassion to your peers who share the halls, learn in your classrooms, and play on your sports teams, and respect that their backgrounds may include challenges you will never face.
Although we may not all be DREAMers, we all have the right to pursue our dreams.
SKELLY LETTER REGARDING SMUHSD AND DACA
Dear Students, Families and Employees of the San Mateo Union High School District:
Earlier this week, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was rescinded by the president. DACA provided a way for young, undocumented immigrants brought to this country by their families to have the opportunity to work hard, graduate, go to college, begin careers, and lead meaningful lives as contributing members of our global society. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 young Californians are under the program’s umbrella; many of them have only known the United States as their home.
It seems appropriate to reiterate the San Mateo Union High School District’s (SMUHSD) commitment to educating all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, heritage, national origin, immigration status, or other characteristics. Every student we serve deserves our best efforts and we are committed to their success.
We want all students and our community to know that all students have full access to our schools and are protected from pressures and intrusive actions that would disrupt or impair their education. The District complies with all Federal and State laws governing the privacy of student records including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
We remain dedicated to all of our students and will do everything we can to ensure their success.
Kevin Skelly, Ph.D.
Cover Image Credit: Espaillat House