Opinion

Opinion | L. Rafael Reif

Trump should not repeal DACA

Silvia Maceda, a native of Mexico who lives in Staten Island under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, at a march in New York in January.
Yana Paskova/New York Times
Silvia Maceda, a native of Mexico who lives in Staten Island under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, at a march in New York in January.

President Trump is reportedly considering a repeal of “DACA,” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The immediate pressure: a threat of legal action by a number of states to end the program, which sets a Sept. 5 deadline for the White House to act.

As the president of one of America’s leading technical universities — an institution built on intellectual excellence, a meritocratic openness to talent, and a long tradition of national service — I believe repealing DACA would be a mistake. Repeal would be no more than a rejection of a policy and of thousands of human beings. Repeal is not, however, a solution for the country or for the young people directly involved. I strongly urge the president and Congress to find a path that better serves us all.

Created in 2012 by executive action, DACA addresses the problem of young people brought to this country without documentation when they were under 16, a group sometimes known as Dreamers. DACA invites them to declare themselves openly to the government. In return, provided that they meet strict criteria, such as having earned a high school diploma, being enrolled in higher education or engaged in the military, and having committed no serious crime, DACA allows them a Social Security number, a driver’s license, authorization to work — and perhaps above all, relief from the fear of being deported. DACA is not a path to permanent citizenship; it grants a temporary but renewable opportunity for a normal life. And it applies only to the fixed pool of those who were brought to the US as children before June 2007.

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Repeal would run counter to our national interest in at least two ways. First, it would remove productive workers from our economy, while costing the US government tens of billions in lost future tax revenues and the direct costs of deportation. And because Dreamers are, by definition, products of the US education system, driving them out would be throwing away a tremendous national investment. We should treat these educated, English-speaking strivers not as a burden, but as a resource.

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Repeal also strikes me as a violation of deep American principles. The plight of the Dreamers presents a profound question of fairness. Often starting from harsh personal circumstances, these young people have done what any American family might dream of for their child: Study hard, aim high, and earn a degree or a place in college or the military, on the road to a productive career. They are undocumented through no fault of their own. And when offered an opportunity to come out of the shadows, they did — because they trusted that our government would not punish them for it.

Could we ask for more, from any American?

Yet, as we see at MIT and at campuses across the country, the threat of DACA repeal is subjecting these young people to brutal uncertainty. Now, because of decisions made for them when they were children, they fear losing the opportunities they earned, the communities they think of as home, and the nation they love.

The surest way to provide the certainty these students deserve is for Congress to pass legislation protecting these Dreamers. As many polls have found, the vast majority of Americans oppose repeal of DACA. And many members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have proposed humane and sensible legislative solutions.

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So I ask, in this urgent moment, that we unite as Americans in calling on Congress to bring a bill to the floor as soon as possible — and calling on Trump to allow Congress the time to get this right.

I came to this country 43 years ago. The US immigration system worked well for me. It granted me a student visa and eventually a green card. Years later, on a beautiful day that I will never forget, I became an American citizen. I have the particular patriotism of an immigrant, rooted in deep gratitude and appreciation for a country founded on a dream of fairness. I urge Trump and the Congress to find a sound, stable legislative path to keep that promise of fairness for the Dreamers, too.

L. Rafael Reif is president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.