What Still Matters – DACA & Sovereignty

By The Policy Circle Team

Sovereignty is a powerful force, one that we fought a war of independence to protect, and one that is at play in the immigration debate. What is at the heart of the issue? The meaning of being American. 

In his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Trump referenced sovereignty over 20 times. In one instance he stated: “If we are to embrace the opportunities of the future and overcome the present dangers together, there can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, and independent nations…”

While President Trump tied the value of sovereignty to opportunity and security – in a farewell address to the Army, our very first president looked to the future of our newly independent nation and tied sovereignty to our happiness. George Washington said, “It is universally acknowledged that the enlarged prospect of happiness, opened by the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, almost exceeds the power of description.”

                             Source: legal-dictionary

What does this word, sovereignty, mean for our day-to-day? For Americans, it is the focus our elected representatives place on ‘we the people.’ The governing priorities that embrace our culture and impact our opportunities, without the interference of taxes or regulations from those outside our borders. A nation’s sovereignty is weakened when leaders ignore the constitutional rights of their citizens, use chemical weapons against their people, or design weapons for mass destruction for example.

U.S. sovereignty is undermined by our nation’s immigration reform stalemate.

How does sovereignty apply to immigration? As Mollie Hemingway states, a country is territory, laws and institutions. When a country doesn’t know who is residing inside its borders, when the laws it passes are ignored, or if those in power flout the constitutional framework for determining the construct of our nation – the power of the U.S. to govern itself is called into question.

Juxtapose these principles with the status of U.S. immigration policy today:

  • We don’t have an exact count for the number of illegal immigrants residing within our borders;
  • We do not enforce a large number of the immigration laws we have on the books; and,
  • DACA became the law of the land in 2012 without Congressional input.  

DACA stands for the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals. It was put into place by former President Obama through executive action in 2012, after he repeatedly stated that he didn’t have the executive authority to do so.

This is because Congress is responsible for crafting the laws that determine how and when noncitizens can become naturalized citizens of the United States. Article I, Section 8, clause 4 of the Constitution entrusts the federal legislative branch (i.e. Congress) with the power to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.”  

While the courts have not weighed in on the constitutionality of DACA, the Supreme Court denied President Obama’s attempt to expand DACA through executive action.

The individuals in the DACA program came to the U.S. illegally before turning 16 years old, have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, and were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. Many of them know no other home. DACA eligibility includes education requirements and excludes those who have committed serious crimes. In return, these recipients are eligible to work and receive two-year (renewable) permits that protect them from deportation.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, “690,000 immigrants are enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and could face deportation if and when their work permits expire.” (Washington Post)

At the beginning of September 2017, President Trump called on Congress to address the status of these individuals within 6 months. Bipartisan negotiation on the future of DACA recipients is underway.

What Still Matters is that protecting U.S. sovereignty has taken priority in the ongoing immigration debate. This means Congress has to act to determine the requirements for living in our country, and ultimately, the meaning of being American.

Now, as an American, it is your role to inform your elected officials of your position on the future of the DACA program. While nearly everyone agrees that our current immigration system is broken, exactly what the ideal reform looks like has not yet found consensus. Read up on the issues and form your opinion today!

For more information, check out The Policy Circle brief on Immigration and to find out who your representative and senators are. We even have a letter writing guide to support you in your initial communications to your lawmakers.

What Still Matters is provided by Kristin Jackson, who serves as policy editor for The Policy Circle. Kristin is a middle-of-America native with a decade of experience working on policy in our nation’s capital.  

The Policy Circle is a 501(c)3 that provides a fact-based, nonpartisan framework that inspires women living in the same community to connect, learn about and discuss public policies that impact their lives.  Women across the nation are taking a leadership role in public policy dialogue on what human creativity can accomplish in a free market economy.