Deconstructing the DACA Debate
Before we allow the DACA Dreamer sideshow to hijack an important legislative session, we should all wake up to how small the problem, and the program, actually is.
The total number of Dreamers is about 800,000. Of these, over 62 percent reside in just five states, which hold 37 percent of total population: California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois. So in 90 percent of the states, holding almost two thirds of the population, the number of Dreamers amounts to less than 0.15 percent of people, or fewer than one in 700. Like all statistical analysis, that means little if you are in the tiny affected minority; but coherent public policy is aggregational in nature, for practical and democratic reasons.
The numbers also matter in terms of any permanent solution to the problem of what to do with kids who were brought here by their parents, to whom America is close to the only home they’ve ever known. It is possible, with a relatively small number of people, to carve out an exception to broader immigration policy. What is not possible – or at the very least, should not have been, within the constraints of our Constitution – is for that exception to be decided upon and enacted by a single man with a phone in one hand and a pen in the other. It is this affront to our system of checks and balances that most annoys conservatives, and that inspired President Donald Trump’s unique approach to the issue.
What, precisely, did Trump do? He declared an intention to discontinue the program in six months. He also expressed hope that Congress would find a way to redeem it on Constitutional grounds, so that those 800,000 blameless juveniles could not be unjustly punished for the actions of their parents.
On that note, it should be observed here that the fabric of reality contains many threads that visit the illegal or even merely ill-advised acts of parents upon their offspring. Anyone who sincerely seeks to render that statement untrue is a dreamer of the most Utopian and impractical fantasies.
But back to the President’s actions. The plain reason that he has drawn fire from across the political spectrum is that he has called upon legislators to do a thing that many, regardless of name-following letter, seek to avoid almost without fail: show a modicum of political courage. President Trump knows that the narrative claiming that DACA is favored by 80 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans is false. He knows this because if it were true, a guy who campaigned incessantly declaring his intention to “build a wall” would not have won the presidency, even running against the worst retail politician in living memory. More tellingly, every Member of Congress currently complaining about the six-month spinal growth deadline knows it as well. If they believed it, then they would not fear acting upon it, which their caterwauling convincingly suggests that they do.
The truth is that most people’s view of DACA is conflicted. They understand and sympathize with the plight of the Dreamers; but they also know that the biggest problem in U.S. immigration policy is the existence of a perverse regime of incentives, which actually encourages what it claims to criminalize. This conceptual problem is at the heart of everything from the conviction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to “sanctuary cities,” to the practice known as “catch-and-release.” And the epitome of this disorder is to address a parent who understands that to come to America is to improve her lot and tell her this: Even if you are deported, the child you brought with you will receive what you were denied. This is true because it is the essence of parenthood to seek to bequeath better than you have received.
Like so much of what we’ve seen since his inauguration, President Trump here faced a difficult and contentious problem wrought by the shortcomings and overreaches of his predecessor. His solution is not perfect; but neither would any other be. He has indicated an intention to take the problem seriously, but to address it within the proper constraints of executive power. The very real political problem with that is that it puts the onus of responsibility on the shoulders of Senators and Representatives, who all instinctively know that making a stand on emotionally charged, long-standing wedge issues tops the very short list of things that can interfere with the re-elective advantages of incumbency. Despite a third of Americans believing that he is mentally or morally deficient, the President has shown leadership and charted a course back to both coherence and Constitutionality. Not bad for a narcissistic tweetaholic.