The Sunday Magazine

Janet Napolitano is suing Donald Trump to stop the deportation of the Dreamers

Napolitano, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, is now president of the University of California where some 4,000 undocumented immigrants go to school. They were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and are currently protected under what’s known as the DACA program. President Trump says he will pull the plug on it next year.
Napolitano, former US Secretary of Homeland Security, is now president of the University of California where some 4,000 undocumented immigrants go to school. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

They're called the Dreamers. There are about 800,000 of them.

They're hard-working, law-abiding, largely well-educated and want nothing more than to live and work in the United States.

They contribute tens of billions of dollars to the national GDP every year.

Thousands of immigrants and supporters join the Defend DACA March to oppose the President Trump order to end DACA on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)
There's just one hitch. They were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, usually by their parents, mostly from Central American countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

They're among the 11 million undocumented — or illegal, depending on your nomenclature and ideology — immigrants in the U.S.

For years, the U.S. government has agonized over their fate — not wanting to legitimize unauthorized immigration, but also loath to round up and deport innocent young people who have lived in the U.S. almost their entire lives.

Most dreamers have only ever known the United States as home, Napolitano says. (Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Associated Press)
"This is a population that is particularly caught by the failure of the U.S. Congress to reform our immigration laws, which haven't been reformed for thirty-plus years," Janet Napolitano says.

Napolitano is a former governor of Arizona, and the current president of the University of California — a post she's held since 2013.

And, as the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security during Barack Obama's first term, Napolitano was responsible for drafting and implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In September, Napolitano's university — home to about four thousand undocumented immigrants — launched a lawsuit against the Trump administration to try to prevent it from ending DACA.

DACA was enacted in 2012, as the Obama administration's solution to the dreamer dilemma. It allowed people who entered the U.S. illegally as children to live and work or go to school without the threat of imminent deportation looming over their heads.

A protest in front of the White House after the Trump administration scrapped DACA. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
"Because these are young people who were brought into the United States as children," she says, "they were raised in the United States. They've only known the United States as home. For them to live under fear of deportation really seemed inconsistent with our values."

DACA applicants are barred from the program if they have any history of criminal activity or constitute a threat to national security.

But in September, Donald Trump's government announced it was pulling the plug on DACA early next year.

President Trump set a deadline of March 5 for Congress to pass new legislation to deal with the Dreamer issue.

Without new legislation, nearly a thousand permits a day will begin to expire after March 5, and their holders will be at risk of deportation once again.

Napolitano says there is little reason to believe criticisms that programs like DACA legitimize queue-jumping or illegal migration.

There is no data to support the argument that programs like DACA create an incentive for people to illegally enter the United States, Napolitano says. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)
"Do programs like DACA create an incentive for people to illegally enter the United States? The data just don't show that. People immigrate to the United States for a lot of different reasons, but it's not because of programs like DACA."

The fight over DACA is far from over. Most Americans think the Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the U.S. Thousands of people demonstrated in Washington and across the U.S. against the dismantling of DACA.

"The United States is a country of immigrants," Napolitano says.

"We always look at the Statue of Liberty as showing that our arms open to the world. And we have grown and thrived because we are a country of immigrants. And so, retreating from that and saying to the rest of the world that we're going to go it alone doesn't seem to me to be sound policy, nor do I think it's consistent with our history and our tradition."

Unless new legislation is passed to replace it, DACA will expire on March 5, 2018. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)
Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.

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