On Tuesday last week, the United States government rescinded DACA, a programme that gave temporary legal status to beneficiaries referred to in legal and political circles as “DREAmers” or simply “Dreamers” and was promulgated by President Barack Obama in 2012.
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was intended to be part of a plan to permanently legalise Dreamers (young people who came to the US as children or infants accompanied by their parents and stayed on illegally).
Dreamers are estimated at 800,000 but such people under 31 at the time of consideration are not put in this category.
Dreamers come from all over the world. Most Kenyan dreamers came to the US with their diplomat parents but were left behind when the tour of duty ended.
Others stayed behind to go to school in the US when their parents went back after a brief visit or a stint as students or religious workers.
Sometimes these young people stayed on in the US illegally. In some cases, both the young people and their parents are still in the US illegally.
A large number of Kenyan Dreamers and their parents have, however, since legalised their status through other avenues. Those who have not live a life of uncertainty, hopelessness and desperation.
They cannot legally get education beyond high school level and are not eligible for public government benefits such as healthcare or Medicaid, social security retirement benefits and subsidised funding.
They cannot travel in and out of the country. The prospect of moving to their parents’ countries is equally daunting as most of them have little or no ties to there, no college education, no meaningful training to guarantee jobs and no wherewithal.
Finding themselves in such untenable situations, some Dreamers have turned to a life of crime, drugs and alcohol and become a menace, especially to their parents, whom they blame for their bleak situation.
The case of Dreamers has been an uncomfortable dilemma for the US government because it involves questions of fairness and moral duty on one hand and stringent legal stipulations on the other.
Over the past 15 years, repeated unsuccessful attempts have been made in Congress to legalise Dreamers but the effort has turned out to be only less difficult than Middle East peace.
Sympathisers and amnesty advocates argue that it is cruel and inhumane to hold Dreamers responsible for their parents’ actions and decisions. They argue that Dreamers have grown up and gone to school in the US, are acculturated and have little or no ties to their parents’ native countries.
They say the US is the only domicile Dreamers know and they would be thoroughly disoriented if they were to be uprooted and forced to start life afresh in their parents’ native countries, which they have never even visited.
Above all, they are unreservedly patriotic, productive members of society who contribute significantly to their communities.
Their situation is, indeed, a heart-rending one. And although President Donald Trump has said Dreamers’ plight is a personal dilemma for him, he went ahead and put his stamp of approval on the DACA rescission plan — thereby taking away Dreamers’ hope.
DACA has been a lifeline for Dreamers. It enabled them to work, study, start businesses and apply for government benefits in the US.
The decision to invalidate DACA is most unfortunate and ill-advised. For Dreamers, it is extremely distressing, precarious and tumultuous.
Their promise of America rings hollow. Their hopes and dreams have been cut short — until, perhaps, the next president and maybe never.
Ms Njogu, an immigration lawyer, practises law in New York, USA. [email protected]