President Trump met Thursday with Senate Republicans about a possible deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Obama’s lawless pen-and-phone amnesty that gave two-year renewable work permits to certain illegal aliens who arrived before age 16. There are about 700,000 of them, and the six-month grace period that President Trump gave them after canceling the program in September is fast running out.
There are three clusters of issues at play here.
DACA or Dream? First, what is the universe of people being considered for an amnesty? As I’ve noted here previously, there’s a tendency — inadvertent in some, intentional in others — to conflate the DACA population of perhaps 700,000 illegal aliens who have Obama work permits with the much larger group of “Dreamers,” which, depending on the bill, could add up to more than 3 million people. The point of such conflation by those who know what they’re doing is to use the smaller DACA group as a wedge to sneak through a multimillion-person amnesty.
Just this week, three former DHS secretaries under Bush and Obama (Chertoff, Napolitano, and Johnson) contributed to this strategy by publishing a pro-amnesty open letter that uses “Dream” and “DACA” synonymously.
Green Cards or Work Permits? The second issue is what kind of amnesty would the DACA people (or Dreamers) get? Would they simply have their current status formalized, so that they have work permits but are not formal permanent residents on track for citizenship? Or would they eventually be upgraded to regular permanent residency — green-card status? This matters, because some politicians try to pretend that whatever amnesty they’re pitching at the time isn’t really an amnesty if it doesn’t result in green cards (and eventual access to citizenship and voting).
A work-permit amnesty would be a mistake for two reasons. Trying to deny that it’s an amnesty should fool no one. Ever since this tactic was widely deployed during the Bush-McCain-Kennedy amnesty push over a decade ago, anyone with a scintilla of political awareness knows that a politician who says “This isn’t an amnesty” is actually pushing an amnesty. Anything that lets an illegal alien stay legally is an amnesty, and we might as well just admit it.
Furthermore, permanent work-visa status is politically unsustainable. GOP pols who think they can square the circle by amnestying the DACA beneficiaries but not letting them become citizens (and thus vote Democratic) will be in for a rude surprise. The Democrats might agree to that as a stopgap, to get their constituents on firmer legal ground. But they would immediately launch a campaign to end the “Jim Crow immigration regime,” and in a few years Congress would just convert the legalized DACA population to green-card holders anyway. The only way a non-citizenship amnesty could make sense is as a conditional status that would be converted to permanent residency once the enforcement and legal-immigration components of a DACA amnesty bill were fully implemented.
How to Balance the Amnesty? Which brings us to the final question — what measures would be packaged with a DACA amnesty? This is where most of the attention has been focused, but it’s been framed inaccurately as a simple matter of legislative horse-trading: Each party has things it desires, so let’s make a deal. The Dreamer activists see it this way too, objecting to being used as “bargaining chips.”
But this isn’t mere legislative horse-trading. The measures being discussed are necessary to limit the fallout of any deal. All amnesties have two effects: They incentivize additional illegal immigration (as prospective illegals abroad see that their predecessors managed to get away with it) and they create downstream chain migration (when the legalized aliens eventually sponsor their relatives). Thus the need for any DACA deal to include enforcement measures (like E-Verify and/or the wall), to blunt the surge of illegal immigration caused by amnesty, and the abolition of the family-immigration categories that lead to chain migration (i.e., limit family immigration to the core nuclear family of spouses and minor children).
The polling on this is strong. Most of the advocacy groups and their media mouthpieces point to surveys showing broad support for the idea of letting DACA people stay, and I’m sure that’s correct. But any survey that has Luis Gutierrez and me giving the same answer is asking the wrong question. That’s why it’s good that Numbers USA released polling this week that assumed a DACA amnesty, but asked what measures should be packaged with it. By about two to one, respondents supported an E-Verify mandate and ending chain migration (and ending the visa lottery as well).
The president has been quite consistent, both on Twitter and in real life, that a DACA amnesty must include offsets to limit the damage. Here’s a tweet from December 29: “The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc. We must protect our Country at all cost!”
I think mandatory use of E-Verify for new hires is a much more important tool for blunting the post-amnesty surge of illegal immigration, but the president is set on his wall. In fact, the wall looms so large in the president’s thinking that the Democrats could probably “buy” amnesty for the DACA people and the Dreamers and who knows how many other illegals if they just gave him his wall, without even making any concessions on chain migration or anything else. But their deranged hatred for the president and all his works means they just can’t give him his wall, or make any meaningful concessions on DACA beyond some extra non-wall border funding. Can you imagine the danger — the real, physical danger — Schumer and Pelosi would be in if they agreed to fund anything the president could plausibly describe as a border wall?
This is why I’m increasingly of the opinion that there isn’t going to be any DACA deal. Despite the eagerness of such Republicans as Senators Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) to sell out to the Democrats, the Left’s maximalist demands will likely doom this effort.
— Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.