From valedictorians to criminals: Should Congress treat all DACA recipients the same?

(George Walker IV/The Tennessean via AP)

Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted a reassuring message to dreamers, telling them they have ‘nothing to worry about.’ But the clock is ticking for Congress to pass a legislative alternative to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), and experts warn they need to do this carefully.

An ongoing Harvard University study finds that 73 percent of DACA recipients surveyed live in low-income housing and only 22 percent have earned a degree from a four-year college.  However, amnesty activists and members of the mainstream media are driving the message that the majority of permit holders are upstanding members of society.

Jessica Vaughan, the Director of Policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, told Red Alert Politics that lawmakers need to seriously evaluate the vetting process for these undocumented immigrants.

“The first problem was that the standards were too low to begin with. You were eligible for DACA even if you had multiple misdemeanors,” Vaughan said.

The Department of Homeland Security reported that close to 2,000 have had their permit revoked due to a criminal conviction or gang affiliation. The number of revoked permits continues to rise because of felony criminal convictions and affiliation with violent gangs like ‘MS-13,’ yet the policy expert says little attention was given to the failures in the program.  

“The other problem was that there were no requirements that someone be interviewed, and there was no opportunity for USCIS officers to question people about the claims that they made on their application,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan blames the federal government for handing out thousands of permits without thorough background checks. There are nearly 800,000 approved DACA recipients in the U.S. However, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that around two million illegal immigrants are currently living in America and would meet the DACA permit qualifications.

“Most of them are ordinary immigrants, what that means though is that like ordinary immigrants, they tend to be working in lower skilled jobs, and tend to be less educated on average than Americans; that imposes a burden on our welfare, health care, and public assistance programs,” Vaughan said.

DACA recipients are not eligible for many federal benefits, although they do have access to Medicare and emergency medical care, at expense to taxpayers.  In addition, they can apply for Social Security and receive income-based tax benefits.  Although permit holders benefits are limited on the federal level, 40 states offer supplemental benefit programs to dreamers.

The Harvard study also found that dreamers, after receiving their legal permits, were dropping out of high school at a rate almost four times higher than Americans citizens. Vaughan acknowledges that many dreamers are high achievers, more than 300 are active duty in the U.S. military; some are doctors, and business owners.  But she says the success stories are misrepresenting the reality of what the majority of DACA recipients are, low-income workers competing with Americans for low-skilled jobs, and this added competition in the workforce comes at a cost to American taxpayers.

“There are certain other criteria that they should have to meet including good moral character, gainful employment, and self-sufficiency — and that if they can’t meet those qualifications, then they should expect to be to go back to the country they came from,” Vaughan said.

To receive a permit under the Obama-era DACA system, applicants must have entered the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 years old. The candidate must have been enrolled in school, earned a high school diploma, or enlisted in the military. The applicant also couldn’t have any felony convictions but was allowed to have had up to three misdemeanors. Vaughan argues these requirements are not enough to give someone legal status.

If Congress’ goal is to pass a comprehensive immigration reform policy, Vaughan said the new program for dreamers should be similar to the RAISE Act, and make dreamers meet strict requirements for permits. The RAISE Act was introduced in February by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and calls for a skill-based immigration system.

“I have actually met a number of young people with DACA who are college students, and I thought that they were wonderful. They seemed like wonderful people, but you can’t run a program on the assumption that everyone is a well-educated, high-achieving, articulate, upstanding person,” Vaughan said.

The DACA program has been a controversial issue, starting with its creation in 2012, when President Barack Obama passed it through executive actions. President Trump, who campaigned on tough immigration reform, promised his supporters that he would end DACA. On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that it would end the program. DACA recipients or ‘dreamers’ have six months to keep their permits, but no incoming or renewal applications will be authorized.  In the next six months, Trump wants Congress to pass a legislative alternative to the program.


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