Donald E. Graham, chairman of Graham Holdings Company, was publisher of The Washington Post from 1979 to 2001.
The “dreamers” — an admirable group of young people — are in trouble and don’t deserve to be. They are being used as foils by a politician trying to distract attention from his own upcoming felony trial .
The politician is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R). He proposes to use his state’s resources to persecute (no other word will do) young people who:
● Came to the United States as children under the age of 16 (the leading scholar of the group says that they came at an average age of 6) with their parents, who are undocumented immigrants. They have no way to change their status.
● Have never committed a felony or a serious misdemeanor, or three misdemeanors of any kind.
● Are students in U.S. schools or graduates of those schools.
● Have been in the United States for at least 10 years.
● Include soldiers, doctors, nurses and teachers — all of whom would lose their jobs if Paxton prevails to get the Trump administration to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
So let us ask a few questions: Do we ever prosecute someone for a crime committed when they were 6 years old? Of course not. Suppose a 6-year-old were a passenger in the getaway car for a robbery. Would we prosecute the child? Are you kidding?
Now let’s consider crimes committed 10 years ago. In Texas, if a person committed a major felony — robbery, burglary, anything short of murder, manslaughter or rape — the statute of limitations has expired and that person cannot be prosecuted. But Paxton wishes to turn the resources of the state to ruining the lives of young people who immigrated illegally as small children alongside their parents.
The case involves the Obama executive order called DACA, which allows nearly 800,000 immigrants who came to this country as minors to legally work and live here. President Trump has rescinded many of the former president’s executive orders; why not this one?
I suspect his thinking is something like this:
● Trump and many Americans who voted for him don’t like immigrants who are criminals. The DACA recipients have committed no crimes and if they commit one, they lose their DACA status and can be deported. They are young people with a lifetime record of obeying the law.
● Trump doesn’t want to see anyone receive federal benefits from immigrating unlawfully. DACA provides no access to federal benefits — no Pell Grants, no college loans — and no path to citizenship or path to a green card. U.S. taxpayers will not spend a cent toward the college education of any dreamers with DACA.
● What DACA recipients want is a chance to study and then to go to work. All DACA provides them with is a two-year exemption from deportation and a temporary work permit. DACA can be renewed after two years (the dreamer pays $495 when he or she obtains DACA and each time it is renewed) but only if Homeland Security confirms that the dreamer has committed no crimes.
If DACA gives its recipients no benefits, why is it so important? It gives the dreamers two years during which they cannot be deported, unless they commit a crime, and a temporary work permit. Without the work permit, the dreamers cannot legally work. With it, they are already forging impressive careers.
Paxton and the nine other state attorneys general who support him argue that DACA was improperly adopted by President Barack Obama — that his executive order usurped Congress’s authority. Paxton and 26 other attorneys general successfully sued to block a much larger executive order. Having left DACA out of his initial suit, he is now doubling back (having lost two-thirds of the states that once supported him) to amend his suit to include DACA. They have given the government until Sept. 5 to phase out the program or they will sue. He hopes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, long a critic of immigration, won’t defend it, giving Paxton a cheap “victory” over young people who only want to study and work.
DACA makes money for Texas from in-state tuition payments to state colleges and state taxes on dreamers’ earnings and will make billions tomorrow as those earnings grow. This is a purely political lawsuit; facing a Dec. 11 trial on charges of defrauding his friends in a business deal, Paxton wishes to distract voters by showing that he’s more anti-immigration than Trump.
I now know something about DACA recipients. After decades of helping run a scholarship fund for U.S. citizens in my hometown of Washington, some friends and I three years ago started a national fund for DACA recipients.
The obstacles that have been put in their path are prodigious. We have offered privately funded $25,000 scholarships to good low-cost colleges, for example, the City University of New York, some California state colleges and Miami-Dade College in Florida.
The dreamers are among the most motivated students I have ever encountered. After three years, 85 percent of our 1,700 scholars are still in college or have graduated (far higher than overall retention rates at the colleges they attend). Again, we ask no state aid for these students. We are bringing money to the state colleges usually to fill empty places in their classrooms, and most of our partner colleges don’t turn any qualified student away.
Years from now, the dreamers will be nurses, teachers, businessmen and women — in short, taxpayers. They’ll contribute far more to the economy with even this slim chance to attend college.