Still Searching for an Anti-DREAMer Rationale

An anti-DACA argument in The Washington Post shows the gap where Trump and company’s justification should be.

By Nathan Pippenger

Tagged immigration

Last week, I referred to President Trump’s DACA decision as “so lacking in a plausible rationale that one is almost numb in the face of its pure audacity.” Since this White House seems uninterested in attempting to persuade anybody outside the #MAGA base, it falls to outside volunteers to make their case­. In The Washington Post, Mickey Kaus has faced up to the task. His effort is unconvincing.

Kaus begins bluntly: “a lot of what’s said about the dreamers is PR-style hooey.” His first gripe is with the claim that DREAMers were brought to the United States by their parents—even though, as he points out, DACA’s actual criterion is that beneficiaries arrived before the age of 16. But, surely, Kaus objects, some DACA recipients might have entered the United States without actually having been brought in by their parents. How this rhetorical quibble meaningfully changes the key aspects of their predicament­—first, that they realistically have no other home to return to, and second, that it would be unduly harsh to deport them either for their parents’ actions or for something they did as a child­—Kaus does not say.

Kaus also worries about the future consequences of granting citizenship to DACA recipients­. “Can you imagine,” he asks, “a stronger incentive for illegal immigration than the idea that if you sneak into the country your kids will get to be U.S. citizens?” Clearly, this question is meant to impress the reader, but it’s strangely disconnected from the reality that the flow of migrants from Mexico (the largest source of undocumented immigrants), after falling for years, has probably gone into reverse: More Mexicans are leaving the United States than are coming to it. This change, which predates the rise of Trump, is often attributed to a decline in Mexico’s birth rate and a gradual improvement in its economy­ (as well as the effect of the Great Recession in the United States). Recent experience shows that social and economic factors are probably more powerful forces than the enticement of possibly gaining legal status or citizenship at some indeterminate future date—especially since the waiting period, as current events are demonstrating, may include long periods of unnerving uncertainty.

Of course, whether relief is actually forthcoming now depends on Congress, to which the President has punted responsibility for the fate of the DREAMers. Last night brought news of a possible bipartisan deal that would protect DREAMers in exchange for some new border security measures. Only time will tell whether a deal can be struck (who wants to rely on Trump’s word?). Congressional Democrats may even conclude that meaningful concessions are unnecessary: Trump’s own shifting approach to the issue suggests that even he is leery of the political risks the issue presents.

Still, it may turn out that, as the six month deadline approaches, advocates for DREAMers will have exhausted their other options. Republican majorities in Congress may be unmoved by their claims, and Trump (who has already publicly wavered on this issue) may be sending signals that he’s inclining toward the counsel of people like Jeff Sessions. In that case, with the threat of deportations imminent, there will be good reason to seek a deal that would spare DACA recipients. But between now and then, Trump and his allies should at least attempt to offer what Kaus’s column can’t: some compelling reason to upend the lives of these hundreds of thousands of people.

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Nathan Pippenger is a contributing editor at Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanPip.

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