Politics & Policy

DREAMing of an Executive Order

Rep. Steve King chats with an immigration activist in Okoboji, Iowa. (CNN via YouTube)
A cohort of “non-partisan” activists seeks a policy win at the expense of the Constitution.

Erika Andiola had, of course, no intention of “talking with” Representative Steve King when she approached him earlier this week.

The self-identified DREAMer, along with a fellow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Cesar Vargas, confronted the Iowa Republican at a restaurant in Okoboji, Iowa, where he was eating with Kentucky senator Rand Paul. (Paul’s hasty exit from the situation subsequently titillated the Twittersphere.) “I know you want to get rid of DACA, so I want to give you the opportunity. If you really want to get rid of it,” Andiola said, handing him her DACA card, “just rip mine.” The incident was caught on video.

The tense seven-minute exchange that followed — in which Andiola accused King of calling DREAMers names, and King commented on Andiola’s grasp of the English language and disrespect for the law — is cringe-inducing to watch, whatever your political leanings. But it highlights a side effect of DACA, the non-deportation memorandum handed down by the Obama administration in the summer of 2012: It has anointed a new cohort of activists.

Illegal immigrants have for years been outspoken demonstrators — consider José Antonio Vargas, who has flaunted his unlawful status on the cover of Time magazine — and undocumented youth applied a significant portion of the political pressure that resulted in DACA. But as it becomes more and more likely that the president will unilaterally expand his earlier immigration measure, the DREAMer subset — lawfully present, not at risk of deportation or legal action — have increasingly become proponents of a larger amnesty. The DREAMer is, more and more, the voice of illegal immigrants in general.

Andiola, for example, is not just a DREAMer. She is also co-director of DRM, the DREAM Action Coalition, which lobbies and advocates on behalf of undocumented youth. United We Dream does similar work. The organization claims to be “the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation.” It also claims to be non-partisan, but it rarely acts that way.

In June, United We Dream demonstrated in the Rayburn House office building, pounding on the doors of House speaker John Boehner, California representative Darrell Issa, and other members of the GOP. “They always close the door on us, right, but we’re used to the Republicans treating us this way,” a protester told CNS News. Then again, it likely had nothing to do with a lack of  Republican politesse: The demonstration took place during the House’s July 4 recess.

In late July, United We Dream activists staged a “mock funeral” for the GOP. Wearing black and carrying a fake casket — “R.I.P. GOP,” it read — they marched through the Dirksen and Hart Senate office buildings, starting from Texas senator Ted Cruz’s office and pausing at the offices of several other Republican senators to share personal stories. The Republicans “have killed the dreams of millions of people across the nation,” protest organizer and DREAMer Greisa Martinez told China Topix. The protesters sang “We Shall Overcome.”

A few days later, illegal aliens and DREAMers protested together outside the White House. CT Students for a Dream tweeted, “‘DACA has changed out [sic] lives and we know it can change our parents [sic] lives’ #GoBigObama #WeCantWait.” United We Dream tweeted, “Today, we reminded @BarackObama that our mothers and fathers have dreams too,” adding the same hashtags.

Andiola, Vargas, and DRM have promised to continue confronting politicians in their push for immigration reform. That the executive order hinted at by the Obama administration — an expansion of DACA that could affect up to 6 million illegal aliens, half of the illegal population in the United States — has many of its fiercest proponents in the 550,000 DACA beneficiaries is understandable; their position is sympathetic. Many families now face the prospect that parents in the country illegally could be separated from their children who have been granted lawful status under DACA. That this is a problem of the administration’s own making, though, goes largely unremarked.

Yet what is most striking among those who urge the president to “go big” is the lack of concern that he go big legally. That a far-reaching executive order on American immigration policy would undercut the separation of powers established by the Constitution is, it seems, a small price to pay for this policy victory.

As Facebook DREAMers proclaimed in June 2013, posting pictures of themselves on the one-year anniversary of DACA: “DACA is not enough.” President Obama, they say, can do more. And increasingly bold DREAMers are eager to help him however they can.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at National Review.

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