Politics & Policy

Graham-Durbin, a DACA Amnesty for Millions

Senators Durbin and Graham at the U.S. Capitol in September 2017 (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
The Graham-Durbin proposal would amnesty as many as 5 million people.

The Graham-Durbin proposal is being portrayed as a reasonable bipartisan proposal on DACA that only fanatics on the restrictionist side of the debate are blocking. But a senior administration official explains why the Trump administration considers the proposal, in this official’s words, “radical and extreme.”

The population protected by DACA is roughly 700,000. The population that would benefit from various DREAM Act–style proposals is higher. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the population that would meet the minimum threshold for age at arrival and length of residence under the 2017 Graham-Durbin DREAM Act would have been 3.2 million. The education criteria would have winnowed the eligible population to 2.1 million.

Not everyone is going to sign up (this was true of DACA), but the scale we are talking about, depending on the details, could be a couple of million. The Graham-Durbin proposal to Trump was sketchy, but what we have seen doesn’t mention any education requirements.

Then there is the Graham-Durbin idea to give legal status to the parents of DREAMers as well. In theory, this would be another two beneficiaries of amnesty for every DREAMer. If you take the outer bound of the DREAMer amnesty at 3 million and add two parents, you get to 9 million. That’s not going to happen. Not every DREAMer is going to have two parents in the country. Parents may not be living or may be ineligible under whatever criteria are established. But it’s not far-fetched to believe that a DREAMer amnesty for 2 million could get as high as an overall amnesty for 5 million.

That is an enormous number. The 1986 amnesty initially covered 2.7 million, and Graham-Durbin could easily eclipse that and come close to matching it just with DREAMers themselves. CBO estimated that the Gang of Eight bill would initially amnesty 8 million people. Graham-Durbin could get more than halfway to the amnesty in what was billed as “comprehensive” immigration reform.

Chain migration will drive the numbers higher over time. Research has found that in recent years every new immigrant brings another 3.45 immigrants on average through chain migration (immigrants from Mexico bring an additional 6.38 on average). The numbers would probably be lower for the DREAMers under Graham-Durbin, since their parents would already be covered, but chain migration would be an accelerant.

What Graham and Durbin are proposing is 1986 on steroids — a big, immediate amnesty in exchange for some additional border funding that may not achieve anything meaningful.

So what is being discussed is very consequential. What Graham and Durbin are proposing is 1986 on steroids — a big, immediate amnesty in exchange for some additional border funding that may not achieve anything meaningful. This would be a very bad deal. The reforms to chain migration that Tom Cotton and others are pushing for are big changes, but they are in keeping with the magnitude of what the other side is talking about.

Republicans are going to be hard-pressed to win this debate. The first step is understanding what they are being pushed by the Democrats and the press to sign up for.


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