There has been some important news on the future of the 780,000 undocumented immigrant children, young adults and even teachers protected from deportation under the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and now facing the possibility of being removed from the country they have called home for nearly their entire lives. That news should rally school reformers to do more to help the Dreamers who are in our schools and teaching in classrooms — and stand up against a political regime engaged in what can best be called low-grade ethnic cleansing.
First came yesterday’s ruling by a U.S. District Court Judge in Brooklyn that, along with a ruling handed down earlier this month, halts the Trump Administration’s effort to fully shut down the program. In the case, Vidal et. al. v. Nielsen, Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the plaintiffs, which include TK Dreamers under threat of deportation, will likely win their effort to stop the cancellation of DACA because the regime didn’t offer “legally adequate reasons” to do so.
In his injunction, Garaufis found that the Trump Administration’s main justifications for ending DACA — that it would be found unconstitutional if challenged in court by a group of attorneys general that had threatened a lawsuit over the initiative, and that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Immigration and Naturalization Act — were “legally erroneous” and were based on faulty interpretations of both laws. Just as importantly, the administration’s own files prove lie to those justifications; essentially, the judge found that the regime was making things up as it went along. Finally, as Garaufis points out, the fact that the Trump Administration cannot reconcile its argument that DACA would be found unconstitutional (and places the federal government at “litigation risk”) and still continue to operate certain aspects of DACA; either it had to shut down the program entirely or keep it operating and find another justification for shutting it down.
You can expect the Trump administration to appeal the ruling as it has the similar injunction handed down last month by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in University of California v. Department of Homeland Security. Nor does the ruling help those Dreamers whose protections from deportation have already expired; they are probably unable to reapply for those protections because their deadlines have already passed. But it can help those Dreamers still covered under DACA even after March, when the administration planned to end the program altogether.
The bigger and more-important play is happening on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his usual unwillingness to lead, has allowed a free-for-all debate on immigration policy that has often added more-confusion over matters than anything concrete.
The Trump Administration has already staked its ground, calling for Congressional Republicans to support a proposal from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley that would allow Dreamers (including an additional one million who could either not qualify for DACA or didn’t apply out of fear of being tracked down and deported if an administration decided to cancel it) to gain citizenship after 12 years after meeting a series of steps that include gaining a higher education credential and not getting a criminal record. It is essentially a version of the immigration restriction plan Trump proposed last month.
As it was the case last month, Congressional Democrats and some Republicans, including Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain, have already balked at the Grassley plan because of the restrictions and because Dreamers who have already spent their entire lives in this country shouldn’t have to wait another 12 years to become citizens. It has also been rejected by nativists among Congressional Republicans who want to do even more to keep out Latino, Asian and African (in short, non-White and non-European) emigres from becoming part of the American Dream. They would prefer a plan offered two months ago by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, which would be even more-restrictive than what Grassley has offered.
Meanwhile the other plans being offered up — including bills that would simply focus on giving Dreamers the citizenship status that nearly all of them have rightfully earned by being good citizens in all but paper — face tough odds of passage. Which isn’t shocking. Over the past two decades, thanks to opposition to expansive immigration as well as political machinations by both parties geared towards denying political victories for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, little movement has been made on either granting Dreamers citizenship or addressing the immigration system itself, which is a legacy of America’s racialism and bigotry toward Asians, Eastern European Jews and the Irish (who were deemed too Catholic and loyal to the Pope to be sufficiently American).
With the future of Dreamers needlessly in flux, there’s a need for all Americans to stand up and fight for youth who have been Americans and good citizens in all but name. The school reform movement, in particular, can help in some important ways.
At the national level, there are already reform outfits such as Teach For America, Emerson Collective and the Education Trust who have actively advocated for Dreamers to gain the citizenship they deserve. Yet as I have noted on Monday and over the past few months, the movement itself hasn’t done enough on their behalf. Given that 606,000 of DACA youth (both eligible and already covered) are in elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools (and another 9,000 are teaching children in classrooms), it is absolutely immoral for reformers to not fight for them. That it is also the politically savvy thing to do (you know, a way to win allies for transforming American public education) is also true. But first and foremost, do right for children.
One simple and easy reformers, especially Beltway players, can help out: Sign onto to letters and petitions being circulated on Capitol Hill by outfits such as United We Dream; a simple call or e-mail to these groups to become signatories is easy to do. [Calling up Teach For America to help with its efforts also makes sense.] Reform outfits with stronger connections to Congress, including National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, can do more by sending letters and asking their members to call their senators and representatives to demand a reasonable (that is, not 12 years of hoops) path to citizenship. They can even bring up the issue during meetings with congressional staffers during day visits to Capitol Hill. On a financial level, individual reformers and organizations can support efforts such as the Journey to Stay Home, a march from New York City to Washington, D.C., to bring further attention to the individual plight of Dreamers.
What about on the ground? There are things that can be done. Charter school operators who have DACA youth (as well as children of undocumented emigres) can take the step of being sanctuaries for those children. This means not cooperating with ICE cops in their inquiries as well as keeping watch for attempts by immigration officers to round up parents and children in front of their schools. Traditional districts such as Chicago Public Schools have already taken similar steps. Reformers working in communities can also talk to immigration rights activists about how they can provide support and cover on the ground.
The most-important thing reformers can do for DACA youth and other Dreamers is to stand up, speak up, and be counted. As individuals, you can write to your senators and representatives and ask them to defend Dreamers by supporting legislation that focuses solely on their path to citizenship. If you work in schools and know a Dreamer, let them know that you have their back. Within your organizations, make the case for leadership to stand up and be counted; how can an outfit be a credible advocate for kids when it isn’t working for all of them?
Champions for children must stand up at all times for every child no matter who they are. The time to defend the lives and futures of Dreamers is now.
Featured photo courtesy of NBC News.