Attorneys general wrong to call Dreamers a threat to public safety

LGBT Rights
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton during a news conference last year.

When voters went to the polls in last year’s election, security and immigration were on their minds.

According to a March Gallup poll, the worry over security and immigration remains. Fifty-nine percent of Americans worry a great deal or a fair amount about illegal immigration. Fixing our broken system is a worthy cause, as are efforts to locate and deport those here illegally who are involved in violent crime. But as we seek to address the problems that stem from a broken system, it is important that we do so driven by robust, open, and, most important, honest debate.

Six months into President Trump’s term, those topics are still front and center, but the politics of immigration has given way to dishonesty when it comes to how some characterize the threat to public safety posed by those who are here in an undocumented or unauthorized status. For example, in an effort to drive the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program out of business, 10 state attorneys general have sought to characterize DACA recipients as a threat to public safety, using a lawsuit. And that is simply untrue.

DACA, initiated by President Barack Obama in June 2012, allows some who entered the United States as children to receive renewable two-year protection from deportation and a work permit. The attorneys general, all Republicans and led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, are threatening to amend a current federal court filing challenging the DACA program unless the Trump administration phases it out. There are currently 750,000 DACA beneficiaries.

Having spent more than 30 years working on law enforcement and homeland security issues at the federal, state, and local levels, I am confident those young people who currently are part of the DACA program do not represent a threat to the security of our nation or our communities. They go through a very rigorous screening to be accepted into the program. Get so much as a parking ticket, which most of us have gotten in our lifetimes, and DACA is no longer an option. These kids are U.S.-raised, fluent in English, and invested in their communities. They go about their business of attending school and working. The overwhelming majority of these kids (just like the majority of unauthorized or undocumented immigrants) contribute to their communities, will get jobs, and will pay taxes. Doing away with the DACA program will make these young people subject to enforcement action, including deportation and removal.

As elected and appointed officials, and law enforcement, focus on real threats to our safety, many understand that Dreamers are not a security risk. It’s why we saw former Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly decline to push forward with eliminating DACA. It’s why we have seen the president say Dreamers “shouldn’t be very worried,” and describe the kids as “incredible.”

To secure the well-being of our nation, we must devote our time and energy to real threats. We should focus our limited law enforcement resources on securing our borders, preventing violent crime broadly, deporting violent criminal aliens, preventing cyber-attacks, and addressing a growing opioid crisis. These are examples of domestic security priorities demanding the attention of our elected officials. Targeting a group of young people seeking to better themselves through education so they can contribute socially and economically to the growth of our nation is not a good use of law enforcement resources.

Let’s not confuse security and safety with political theater. Prescreened DACA kids are not a danger to this country. Instead, find a way to make the United States safer and more secure through comprehensive decisions on immigration and by focusing our limited resources on actual threats.

John D. Cohen is a distinguished professor of professional practice at Rutgers University. jc1855@crimjust.rutgers.edu