During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump brought immigration to the forefront of the public debate, and for good reason. Our immigration system is in dire need of improvement. Millions of undocumented immigrants are currently living in the shadows with neither an accessible path toward legal status nor clarity about what lies ahead for them under a new administration.
Trump has an opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise and improve America’s broken immigration system while allaying the concerns of his political adversaries. With the nation still torn after a hard-fought election, he should demonstrate his intention to be a unifier by taking steps to protect vulnerable immigrants. In particular, he should allow industrious, nonviolent immigrants to stay in the country and pursue a more permanent status as part of a broader comprehensive reform package. That way, he can focus on true national security threats at the border without jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of peaceful, productive immigrants working toward a brighter future.
The major looming question is how the Trump administration will approach the immigration policies that President Obama put in place by executive order. If these programs are terminated without replacement, millions of immigrants with no criminal history could face the threat of deportation. Lately, though, Trump has shied away from his hardline campaign rhetoric and recently expressed interest in extending the protections President Obama granted via executive order under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
DACA temporarily stayed the deportation of the Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who were unwittingly brought to the United States by their parents. To qualify for deferred action under DACA, immigrants had to have a clean criminal record and were required to be enrolled in school, high school graduates, or serving in the military.
DACA beneficiaries are among the most promising and upwardly mobile young people in the country. Almost half of DACA recipients are currently in school, a majority of whom are in college. A recent study showed DACA recipients to be especially entrepreneurial; they’re twice as likely to start their own business as the average American. Far from being security threats, immigrants protected under DACA are an asset to the country.
Cracking down on violent border crimes and supporting protections for peaceful immigrants are not mutually exclusive. If Trump pursues comprehensive reform, he can demonstrate his prowess as a negotiator and help heal the wounds of a divided nation. He should resist the temptation to utilize executive orders like his predecessor and instead partner with Congress to create protections for hard-working, peaceful immigrants through the proper constitutional means. Doing so would enable him to better secure the border without undermining hard-working immigrants aspiring to a better life in America.
— Jacob Richards is a senior studying political science at Arizona Christian University.