Nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. now face the possibility of losing their jobs, driver’s licences and university seats and even of being deported to a country that was not their home. The looming legal limbo for this sizeable cohort, which includes around 8,000 Indian nationals, is a direct result of President Donald Trump’s decision on September 5 to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. This is a major Obama-era executive action designed to protect those who arrived in the U.S. as children accompanying their undocumented migrant parents. The logic of the Obama administration was that so long as such childhood arrivals integrated lawfully and productively into American society, not committing any crimes, paying their taxes and being upstanding members of the broader community, there could be no reasonable argument to uproot their lives and send them to their parents’ country of origin. Now Mr. Trump has turned that logic on its head in an apparent effort to deliver on his campaign promise to crack down on all forms of undocumented immigration. While he previously appeared sympathetic toward DACA, Mr. Trump has effectively passed the buck to Congress by calling on it to come up with legislation for a lasting solution to the problem “through the lawful democratic process”. No new applications are being processed. Existing beneficiaries requiring renewal of permits for a further two-year period have until March 5, 2018 to get it done.
Beyond that deadline, their continuance in the U.S. would require lawmakers to come up with a bill similar to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a legislative proposal that went beyond piecemeal benefits, granting its recipients residency and setting out a path to citizenship. Such a bill, encapsulating widely acceptable principles underpinning a path to citizenship for deserving migrants, has eluded Capitol Hill for decades. During Barack Obama’s presidency, the comprehensive immigration reform package proposed by the Gang of Eight bipartisan Senators came close to resolving this gaping hole in the immigration policy. Had it been passed, the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. may have found a modicum of solace in the knowledge that one day they could emerge from the shadows into the mainstream. Painful questions surrounding visa issues, including the political soft target that the H-1B visa is, could have been laid to rest and this would have, for example, fostered a climate of greater predictability for manpower planning at tech companies. Yet that bill never did pass into law, owing to the partisan bickering that Americans have come to despise of their representatives in Washington. Given the hostile political climate and bitter polarisation of the U.S. electorate along party lines, there is a real risk that short-term point-scoring on specific aspects of immigration reform could trump the need for a more robust, sustainable remedy.