Failure on DACA Will Stain U.S., Not Just the GOP
The fate of more than 1 million “Dreamers” will indelibly define America’s character in the eyes of our own population and the world.
The fact that these innocent young people have been kept in agonized limbo for years is bad enough. They were brought to the U.S. as children by illegal immigrant parents, grew up here and know no other country. Legislation to give them legal status was first introduced in 2001, but has never passed Congress.
As part of the deal reached Monday to re-open the government, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell promised that he’d permit a vote on immigration legislation—but it’s still deeply unclear whether Dreamers will be given legal status or thrown out of the country.
Their fate rests not only with the Senate, but with the House of Representatives — where majority Republicans in the past have been hostile to “amnesty” — and with President Trump, whose position shifts constantly.
Deporting the Dreamers will be a blight on this country comparable to some of the most inhumane and shameful episodes in our history — the forced expulsion of Native Americans from the southeastern U.S. starting in 1830s, the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, the failure to end segregation even after 1.2 million blacks had served in World War II, and U.S. refusal to provide haven for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
The spectacle would shock the world — ruining America’s standing (what is left of it in the Trump era) as a beacon of freedom, decency and democratic leadership.
It will also shame and further divide Americans and heighten public disgust with the federal government. Deportation would defy the will of more than 80 percent of the population (including 79 percent of Republicans) who support giving Dreamers legal status.
And it would deepen America’s partisan and cultural divisions — possibly like the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which compelled Northerners to assist slaveowners in recapturing runaways. That strengthened abolitionism and contributed to the breakup of the Union. It’s conceivable we’ll see confrontations, possibly violent, as immigration authorities try to round up Dreamers and are resisted by “sanctuary” states and cities and churches and individuals sympathetic to the Dreamers.
It’s certain that the ugly process will be widely compared to ethnic cleansing.
In fact, the motivations of the politicians and groups advocating deportation are comparable. They may say, like Inspector Javert in “Les Miserables,” that the law must be strictly obeyed (“what part of illegal don’t you understand?”), but the purpose of nativist groups has long been to perpetuate white domination of the country.
Some Republicans also clearly fear that the Dreamers and all who sympathize with them will vote Democratic for the foreseeable future.
They are right about that. Whites represent a declining percentage of the U.S. population. A small majority of whites (54 percent) identified as Republicans in 2016, but large majorities of non-whites aligned as Democrats, and voters under 50 show a distinct preference for the Democrats.
These trends will certainly be exacerbated if the Trump administration rips more than a million young people from schools, jobs and even the military because of offenses committed by their parents. The media can be expected to report on the crisis in grim detail.
Part of the difficulty in passing legislation securing the Dreamers’ fate is disagreement on how many should be covered.
It’s estimated that 1.1 million people under 30 were eligible to be protected from deportation under President Obama’s 2012 executive order establishing the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Trump cancelled Obama’s order, effective March 5.
Another major sticking point will be the status accorded Dreamers if they are legalized. Democrats want them to have a clear path to citizenship over a decade. House conservatives want to give them three-year renewable legal status with no path to citizenship.
What President Trump wants is unclear. At her news briefing Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We’d support a permanent solution for people already in the program” -- apparently limiting protection for 800,000 but not saying what constitutes a solution.
Democrats seem to have yielded on other Trump immigration demands — a change from family reunification to talent as the basis of admitting legal immigrants, funding for a southern border wall and an end to the lottery program giving foreigners U.S. resident visas.
The White House says that Trump will sign immigration legislation if those elements are covered, but a bill gaining favor among House Republicans, sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte — and reportedly supported by House Speaker Paul Ryan — adds other elements, including punishment for “sanctuary cities” and reduction in the number of legal immigrants.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are certain what Trump’s bottom line on DACA is. After Democrats thought they had a bipartisan agreement on the issue, he reneged — reportedly under the influence of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and hard-line aide Stephen Miller.
When his cancelling of DACA in September was met with widespread protests, including from top business executives and college presidents, Trump tweeted it was up to Congress to “legalize DACA.”
He said at one point that Dreamers “had nothing to worry about” as to their long-term status, that he had “great heart for them” and that they were mostly “incredible kids.”
But in attacking Democrats amid the shutdown, Trump conflated Dreamers with illegal immigrant murderers.
If partisan differences block a DACA deal and Dreamers are deported, the blame should fall primarily on Republicans and Trump.
A handful of GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Cory Gardner of Colorado, are co-sponsoring the Dream Act this year and a total of 14 have supported it and/or comprehensive immigration reform in the past. Thirty-seven have been opposed.
The GOP-majority House killed a Senate-passed immigration reform bill, including the Dream Act, in 2013 without a vote. Only 13 House Republicans are sponsoring pro-Dreamer legislation this year and another nine have voted favorably in the past. Out of 248.
Theoretically, if all Democrats vote for it along with Republicans who have supported it in the past, a bill legalizing Dreamers should narrowly pass both chambers — carrying out the will of 80 percent of the American population.
But this assumes that, in bitterly divided Washington, GOP leaders will even bring it to a vote — and if they do and it passes, that Trump will sign it into law.
If he begins deporting 1.1 million young people — or any large portion of them -- he will go down in ignominy, along with his nativist-dominated party. But make no mistake: The United States of America as a whole will bear an indelible stain.