So Donald Trump has tried to have it both ways. He is ending the DACA program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy established by the President Obama in June 2012 because Congress had failed to pass the Dream Act. In 2010, a version of the Dream had passed the House of Representatives and came just five votes short of shutting off an anti-immigrant filibuster in the Senate. In other words, a minority of US Senators prevented this eminently reasonable proposal from becoming law.
What was the Dream Act? It applied only to people who came to the US as children without legal documentation. They had to prove they had lived in the United States for five continuous years. They had to be high school graduates. They had to have never been convicted of a felony. The Dream Act would have allowed these individuals to work and live openly without fear of deportation. IF they spent either two years in college or in the military, they would qualify for permanent residency status (a green card) and be on a pathway to citizensip.
President Obama’s executive order promised to “defer action” on the deportation of the Dreamers. It made them eligible for renewable two-year period of not only protection from deportation but also eligibility to work. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals were enrolled in the program created by DACA. It is estimated that another million individuals would be eligible for the program but chose not to apply because they did not want to give information to the government that could be used to catch and deport them should the program be ended.
However, rather than immediately calling for the deportation of all DACA participants, Trump delayed the implementation of the decision for six months --- falsely attempting to show compassion. As a result, the 800,000 people now registered under that program can continue to work and will be guaranteed against deportation for the time being.
However, the Department of Homeland Security, in a chilling memorandum, suggested that all participants in the program begin to make plans to leave the country when the six month delay in ending the program is up.
(See Matt Vespa, “Trump Administration To DACA Recipients: You Might Want To Pack Your Bags.” Sept 6, 2017 )
This six month delay throws the issue to Congress --- a sop to those who argue that the Dreamers are Americans and deserve the same rights as the rest of us. At the same time, ending the program officially is something Trump’s base wants --- the rabid anti-immigrant base that is represented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia who introduced a bill to cut LEGAL immigration in half. Unfortunately, Trump is on record supporting that bill --- which totally contradicts his comments as a candidate that he wanted to build a “beautiful door” in his wall to let legal immigrants in.
(See Peter Baker, “Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half” The New York Times, August 2, 2017.)
One might ask why there is such a division on the merits of the DACA program and why was there sufficient opposition to the Dream Act to kill it in the United States Senate? The Trump base and some so-called strict constitutionalists were apoplectic about Obama’s alleged unconstitutional usurpation of Congressional authority and in fact, a number of state attorneys general have promised to sue to have DACA declared unconstitutional. But anyone who thinks this is an arcane constitutional issue doesn’t understand what is really going on in Donald Trump’s America
Is there an objection on the merits to the idea of embracing 800,000 law-abiding young Americans (and maybe a million more who chose not to apply for the program even though they quality) whose so-called illegal status is no fault of their own? Well, we already heard one such argument – that granting these kids “amnesty” (a misuse of that word by the way – amnesty forgives a crime – these people were children committing no crime when their parents brought them to the country) will only encourage people to do more of the same in the future.
Well, I for one wish more people like these Dreamers would come to America. These are productive people. Many have served or are now serving in the military. They are all high school graduates – many are in college. Many are already working professionally. More than 90% of all Dreamers are working. Dreamer-eligible undocumented immigrants have lower incarceration and crime rates than the native born.
[See Michelangelo Landgrave and Alex Nowrasteh, “The DREAMer Incarceration Rate” Cato Institute Immigration Research and Policy Brief No. 3 (August 30, 2017) ]
If you count all 1.8 million, they represent a bit more than 16 percent of the 11 million undocumented people in the US today.
Reading the accounts of Attorney General Sessions’ announcement of Trump’s decision (the strong virile Trump was too chicken to do it himself) reveals how ridiculously dishonest are the attempts to create convincing reasons to end DACA. First he asserted that DACA benefits adults, not kids – neglecting to mention that when it was implemented in 2012 it affects ONLY people who were brought to the US as children and were under 31 years of age in 2012.
He then asserted that the very existence of DACA caused the influx of unaccompanied minors to the US. This is a real whopper as the increased inflow of unaccompanied minors began a year before DACA was established and surveys found that virtually none of those immigrant children had ever heard of DACA.
Sessions then claimed that DACA recipients can claim government benefits, “including participation in the Social Security program.” But of course, since they are 35 or younger (five years into the program – 31 was the maximum age for admission in 2012) they are participating in the Social Security program by paying lots of payroll taxes. They would need six more years of covered full time employment to qualify for minimal social security benefits and after those six years, they would have to wait another 25 years to receive a penny of pension money. Meanwhile, bringing all these hundreds of thousands of workers into the social security program increased the revenues of the program – with any possible increased expenditure decades in the future.
[Readers can follow more of the arguments in a very interesting article put out by VOX –Ella Nilsen, Alexia Fernandez Campbell, Dylan Matthews and Dara Lind, “4 lies Jeff Sessions told to justify ending DACA. And one misleading claim,” September 5, 2017 ]
I covered some of Sessions’ assertions in detail because I wanted readers to see that most people who attack DACA do so with either totally made up facts (the connection of the surge in unaccompanied minors and DACA) or misleading (to say the least) assertions (“participation in the Social Security program.”) But, in the end, such serious argumentation is probably an exercise in futility.
Unfortunately, the real reasons for the opposition to DACA have nothing to do with logic – or economics – or simple justice. Despite the pleas from CEOs and experts, -- despite polling data that shows that a high percentage of Trump voters would prefer that he not end DACA --- this decision is all about playing to the worst instincts of Trump voters and the American people in general. Throughout our history, we have had waves of anti-immigrant hysteria. First it was the Know Nothing Party in the 1840s --- angry about Irish and German immigrants. Then it was the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that led to us virtually closing the door on immigration in the early 1920s – In the years before and right after World War I, there was xenophobic fear of Italian anarchists, Bolshevik Jewish socialists and other undesirables from Eastern Europe. This led to a virtual slammed door on immigrants from anywhere but Northern Europe in 1924.
One of the unsung achievements of the decade of Civil Rights was the 1965 immigration reform act which repealed the restrictive quotas from 1924 and opened up immigration. The percentage of the population born overseas had fallen to 4.7% in 1970 but it began to rise in the wake of that reform. By 1990, it was 7.9% reaching 12.9% by 2010. (It is quite ironical that when Trump was asked when America was last “great” he said when Ronald Reagan was President. Yet, Reagan signed a law giving “amnesty” to 2.7 million so-called “illegal” immigrants in 1986). Today, Asian and Latino people are an increasing percentage of the population through births and immigration. Those for whom MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN really means MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN think that cutting off immigration is a way to slow the changing demographics of our country – the so-called “browning” of America. Guess what? It’s too late to do that. The rear guard action of the xenophobes will create great hardship but will not stop the demographic changes already baked into our population.
It is essential that we not be fooled by the statements that the anti-immigrant folks are only opposed to ILLEGAL immigration. The bill to cut LEGAL IMMIGRATION in half—that Trump himself supports --- gives the lie to that assertion.
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author (with Howard Sherman) of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies.
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