Politics & Policy

The GOP Can’t Win a DACA Debate It Won’t Have

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks at a White House meeting on immigration reform, January 9, 2018. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
Republicans need to start making the arguments against Lindsey Graham’s proposal.

When President Obama enacted DACA by executive order in June 2012, over the virtually unanimous opposition of GOP elected officials, one Republican senator reacted indignantly, saying over Twitter that it was “a classic Barack Obama move of choosing politics over leadership.”

That senator was Lindsey Graham.

Now that same Lindsey Graham has proposed a plan to reward Obama’s illegal choice of “politics over leadership” by giving a vastly larger amnesty than DACA provided, in exchange for a pittance of a down-payment on a “wall.” There’s no E-Verify, and only superficial tweaks to chain migration and the visa lottery. This “compromise” is now embarrassingly supported by six other GOP senators (Collins, Alexander, Murkowski, Rounds, Gardner, and Flake).

You lose 100 percent of the arguments you don’t make, and the prominence of Graham’s seven dwarves of amnesty is the consequence of the rest of the party’s failure to make an argument. Maybe if the GOP demanded the same unity of purpose on immigration that it did on tax cuts for corporations, we’d get a better deal.

To his credit, the president, upon reviewing the Grahamnesty proposal, called it “horrible” and “the opposite of what I campaigned for . . . Lindsey — he meant well — but I said, ‘Well, how many Republicans agree with this?’” Good question. And one our Senate leadership should have asked before allowing Graham and his colleagues to go freelance, undermining the president’s top legislative priority.

President Trump realizes that an immigration deal may well determine the fate of his presidency. But right now we’re not in a position to get one, because the party, with many honorable exceptions (Tom Cotton, in particular, take a bow) hasn’t explained why the Democratic approach to amnesty is so ruinous. Even if we “win” on DACA in the short term by not granting amnesty, that doesn’t change the fact that we are singing from the hymnal Barack Obama and the Democrats wrote. They have worked with the media to create a bogus narrative about who those beneficiaries are and the consequences of legalizing them.

The GOP has completely failed to counteract that narrative, allowing the Democrats to talk about innocent children taken to the U.S. as infants who are now Harvard graduates working at Google — while ignoring the man who came here by himself at age 18 (he says he was 15 and the DACA “vetters” don’t really check) and stayed here for five years mostly idle and unproductive while picking up two felony charges that were eventually pled down to misdemeanors. Neither, of course, represents the average DACA recipient, but the latter is very much a reality. One former immigration official estimates fraud in the program at 40 to 50 percent of applications.

Instead, the leadership of the GOP has gone above and beyond to reinforce the Democrats’ dishonest DACA talking points. Paul Ryan, who like Graham claimed outrage when DACA was enacted, more recently referred to DACA recipients as “kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home,” an echo of Obama, who in announcing DACA referred to recipients as “kids [a lie, as all DACA recipients must be at least 15 years old and many are in their 30s] who may know no country besides ours.” More recently, a letter from 34 GOP congressmen asserted that, for “many” recipients, the U.S. was “the only country they have ever known.

A modest proposal: Every pro-amnesty GOP congressman ought to be compelled by leadership to sign an affidavit saying that they understand (1) the demographics of DACA recipients (including their income and educational levels, which lag native-born Americans in general, with especially poor representation at the highest end of skills); (2) their likely propensity, given their demographics, to overwhelmingly vote Democrat if granted citizenship; and (3) how their decision to amnesty these illegal immigrants and future Democratic voters without erecting a border wall, enacting E-Verify, and ending chain migration and the Diversity Visa Lottery is consonant with the limited-government views they claim to support. Their answer is not complete without a reference to the experience of the previous large amnesty of 1986.

Or they could just come to my home state of California, where they can see for themselves what post-DACA America looks like. To riff off a saying from notorious GOP amnesty advocate Grover Norquist, in California the GOP has been shrunk to the size that one could drown it in the bathtub. Do Grover and Paul think they’ll keep their tax cuts once a DACA-fueled Democratic majority is running things in Washington? If so, I’ve got a completed section of border wall to sell you. It’s no coincidence that California, ground zero for illegal immigration and its associated activism, has the highest income-tax rates and one of the overall highest tax burdens, along with the most aggressively liberal government, in the nation. That’s America in a post-DACA future if we don’t change the incentives for illegal immigration.

DACA will also harm actual American citizens and permanent residents, especially those who are co-ethnics of many DACA recipients. It’s not a coincidence that we’ve seen wage growth and record-low African-American unemployment now that we have an administration serious about enforcing our immigration laws. And if we don’t stop the forces pushing for unconditional amnesty now, we are giving the green light for the 150 million adults throughout the world who’d like to move to the U.S.

A few years ago, the GOP was united in (correctly) decrying DACA’s unconstitutionality. Now we seem happy to let Democrats set the terms of our surrender. We are supposedly the party that believes in markets and incentives. But what lesson would you take away from this deal if you were a future Democratic president evaluating dubious executive orders? Or someone thinking about entering the U.S. illegally?

To their credit, Republicans have put forth credible immigration bills in both the Senate and the House under the leadership of Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue and Representative Bob Goodlatte. Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely the Democrats will agree to anything resembling these bills, and an active minority of GOP congressmen, obsessed with media approval, seem dedicated to undermining them.

To move us safely away from our current precipice, the GOP needs to start making the arguments against Graham’s proposal — and spell out the changes that are non-negotiable.

To move us safely away from our current precipice, the GOP needs to start making the arguments against Graham’s proposal — and spell out the changes that are non-negotiable.

First we need to make sure that the final bill’s beneficiaries match the Democrats’ rhetoric. If we focus on the truly sympathetic cases, we’ll be amnestying a fraction of the 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” who enrolled in the program — not the millions currently contemplated by the party’s pro-amnesty faction. Why let people get amnestied if they came here at age 16 and stayed just five years? Democrats keep talking about those taken as young children, so why not limit ourselves to those who came at age nine or earlier, eliminating all of those who spent the majority of their childhoods in their countries of birth? Similarly, why are we granting free passes for those convicted of multiple misdemeanors? If you commit a crime, you should be out. And if we’re amnestying kids because they are innocent, we certainly shouldn’t be amnestying their parents, who are confessedly guilty, but the Seven Dwarves want to do it.

Finally and most important, we need to call out the real motivation for the Democrats on DACA. Their goal has never been about amnestying current U.S. residents brought to America illegally as children. If it were, they could have had a deal ages ago in exchange for real enforcement measures to stop the future flow of illegal immigrants. They have never been remotely interested in such a deal. They care only about making sure that millions more illegal immigrants can enter America, providing a future vote base for their party.

With a relentless focus on this message, we can turn the tide on the DACA debate. If the Democrats want to shut down the government to protect illegal aliens, let’s have them defend that. The only gangs we ought to be talking about are MS-13 and their ilk, not gangs of rogue GOP congressmen undermining the immigration vision that the president was elected to implement. But above all we need to acknowledge that the so-called compromises offered thus far were, as President Trump said, “a big step backward.” And we need to explain clearly to voters what an actual step forward would look like.


NR Editorial: A Garbage Deal on DACA

A Ludicrous Ruling That Trump Can’t End DACA

The GOP After DACA: No One Left to Lie To


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