Monday, September 20, 2021

DACA Citizenship: It Could Have Been So Easy

What is it about political leadership that gravitates to the sneaky and underhanded while avoiding simple and practical solutions?   As  today's headlines (9/20/2021) report the breakdown of a plan to slip a massive immigration overhaul into a $3.5 billion dollar budget, it seems our leadership has sunk even further into a state of poor character and winner-take-all tactics.

The definition of good character in politics has popped into my head many times over the last few decades. It first came to my notice during the reign of Newt Gingrich, a Republican version of today's Nancy Pelosi.  Gingrich's 100 day agenda conflicted with the plans of then President Bill Clinton.  The tactics then were very similar to those employed now. Gingrich may have ushered in our modern era of aggressive House leadership but that is not to say other officials have not been just as ruthless and uncompromising in the Senate.   

I pose some question to those in Congress: Is your job to manage government and do things by procedure, or were you put in office to lead and do what is right even if the solution cannot be turned into a political advantage?  Did you ever think there was a simple solution to the DACA and immigration issue?  Did you ever look for one or is this all just about winning the fight?

I suppose both parties believe that, as leaders, they do the right thing while excusing themselves from any real ethical issues.  But the question as always is--does Congress (and any President) bother to look for a practical answer to the problem or is it more of an ego boost to strong arm resolutions and create more division in this already divided country? Isn't DACA, like abortion, nothing more than a polarizing issue that is valuable only when it is unresolved?

My first experience with a child of illegal immigrants came long before DACA existed.  As a teacher in an area with a large Hispanic population, it was normal to have diversity in the classroom. Even under those conditions, it was a surprise when a particularly bright and capable young woman revealed that she was not, nor could she become, a US citizen as she had crossed the border illegally when she was but three years old. Unlike her younger siblings, who had been born in this country, she alone lived without a path to citizenship and planned her after-graduation future in the shadow of uncertainty.

Immigration has never been a hard and fast policy in this country. Perhaps that is why it has become such a problem. But, there was a time when Congress acted to shore up immigration rules and put limits on who could and could not stay permanently. The focus was not paperwork but meeting certain requirements that helped future citizens assimilate into the local community. These requirements are clearly and easily found here


The provisions for citizenship set up more than a hundred years ago (1882) were, and still are, simple and straightforward. Citizenship can be achieved in as little as three years if the person is so inclined. Every President and member of Congress in the last decade has apparently forgotten that such laws are firmly in place and preferred to make this situation another 'never-ending political campaign debate. Choosing a signature on paper and political posturing over thought and creativity, an estimated 800,000 young people live in limbo since former President Barrack Obama created the Dreamers initiative in 2012.


By design, the requirements for citizenship are quite similar to the requirements of graduating from public high school. Students typically are required to provide proof of residence and to attend a minimum number of days to earn this credential. If education law is adhered to, students must demonstrate the ability to understand and converse in standard English and obtain a marketable skill before graduating. Frequently, students must be near or have passed the age of 18 and must have demonstrated some level of good character and ethical understanding for confirmation. All of these are found as a requirement for naturalization to this country.

There is, of course, the issue of the Citizenship test, but that is a relatively new provision in immigration law (established in 1986 and revised in 2018). That requirement is also a general part of the high school curriculum. Without realizing it, many native born Americans take the test for a grade in a Civics, Government or US History class. Some do not pass.


So what is all the fuss about and why are young people who have lived in this country for nearly their entire lives being denied citizenship? Clearly, it boils down to a lack of paperwork. Could Congress not put an end to this torture by simply adopting a procedure whereby DACA individuals provide proof of graduation from an accredited public high school in lieu of visa or permanent residence applications. Rather than the eight year timeline proposed by President Joe Biden punctuated by Supreme Court challenges and political grandstanding, citizenship could reasonably be granted without further delays.


While this will not end the debate of the current open border policy, it could provide a reasonable path to citizenship for children left in the care of what is supposed to be a good and caring country.



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