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Americans must stand with the 'dreamers'.

America's sense of morality - and of itself - is once again being tested.

President Donald Trump has scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme, threatening to deport nearly 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants - the "dreamers" - and crassly justifying the decision by hiding behind a false interpretation of immigration law and America's constitutional separation of powers.

Daca, which gave undocumented young people brought to the US as children a chance to work and study there without fear of deportation, has been a dramatic success. The programme provided a two-year grant of protection and a permit to work legally in the US, after which enrollees were required to go through a renewal process. To qualify, immigrant youths had to meet a set of stringent criteria: When applying, they were required to have been enrolled in high school, have a high school diploma or equivalent, or have been an honourably discharged military veteran. In addition, they must have lived in the US continuously at least since June 15, 2007, and not have a criminal record suggesting they pose a threat to national security or public safety.

In other words, Daca was far from, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested last Tuesday, an "open borders policy" that admitted "everyone". To the contrary, it was a beacon of hope for a narrowly defined group who crossed America's borders before they could have fully understood what a "border" was.

Of course, as Sessions emphasised, America is a nation of laws, and the immigration system is no different. Americans must ensure that their laws are enforced to maintain the vitality, prosperity and security of America's polity. But in painting Daca as a flagrant disregard for America's constitutional separation of powers, Sessions exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding of what Daca did. The programme was based on the well-established executive-branch authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion in setting enforcement priorities. Rather than grant legal status, Daca simply deferred enforcement action against immigrants who met certain qualifications and permitted them to work lawfully in the meantime. And despite Sessions's suggestion that former US president Barack Obama departed from established precedent in creating Daca, the practice of granting deferred action has been formally recognised as within the executive branch's authority since the administration of former US president Ronald Reagan.

But the Trump administration's revocation of Daca rests on more than legal misconceptions; it is also based on a misleading characterisation of the dreamers. Sessions has justified the end of the programme by suggesting that dreamers took jobs away from Americans and that "failure to enforce" immigration laws puts America "at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism". This portrait stands in stark contrast with the dreamers who I, and many others, know, admire and love.

The dreamers I know are husbands and wives, children and parents, cousins and friends. They are business owners, neighbours and soldiers who fight for the American nation. Their work in sectors from technology to law to finance continually betters the American nation. They are not and should not be defined by their immigration status. They must be defined by their character and contributions to America, their devotion to America's communities, and the dreams they espouse. Their America is our America. As Obama had said, they are Americans "in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: On paper".

Americans must look to the truth etched in their past and avoid a tendency to focus on short-term political impulses when it comes to immigration. Immigrants created the US. Tenacity, entrepreneurship and fearlessness have defined immigrants throughout the centuries and serve as a common bond between my immigrant father and Trump's immigrant mother.

After immigrating to America from Barbados, my father served in the Army in the Second World War, only to be refused service - while in uniform - at a lunch counter in the very nation he defended. Nevertheless, his persistence and unshaken belief in America and the unique American opportunities made available to him enabled his son to become attorney general of the US. That's the possibility that comes with immigrating to America, the dream that this country fosters and has made real. Remembering these truths can help us avoid the self-inflicted wound that will be caused by turning away from the principles that indeed made America great - again and again and again.

I'm calling on all Americans to see and treat dreamers as our own, because they are our own. Congress must urgently enact legislation to restore their ability to build lives in America. States must resist Trump's inevitable deportation efforts. The private sector must come together to defend its employees. Americans must raise their voices - and use their ballots. If Americans are to remain true to our heritage and who they claim to be, they must stand with the dreamers.

Eric H. Holder Jr was the US attorney general from 2009 to 2015.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 8, 2017
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