The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Logic of a DACA Deal

There’s been a lot of buzz that the administration will soon pull the plug on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) – the lawless amnesty Obama decreed in 2012 for illegals who claim to have come before their 16th birthdays (“Dreamers” they’re often called). Texas and several other states have threatened to sue to stop DACA if the White House doesn’t end it by a September 5 court hearing in a related case.

Discontinuing this rogue program would not only be the fulfillment of a campaign promise, but is the necessary starting point for any negotiation of lawful amnesty for this sympathetic group of illegal aliens. Cessation of the program would likely take the form of ending renewals (the status and accompanying work permits last for two years), meaning that each day after the end of renewals, an average of around 1,000 of the nearly 800,000 DACAs would revert to being illegal aliens. This would serve to focus the mind of Democrats in Congress on negotiating a deal.

And, in fact, McClatchy reported last week that the White House was exploring the possibility of upgrading the DACAs to a lawful, legislated amnesty in exchange for a package of immigration measures “that pays for a border wall and more detention facilities, curbs legal immigration and implements E-verify.”

I’ve been arguing for such a deal for some time, but I think everyone – possibly including the White House – misunderstands the nature of the deal. It’s not a patchwork, but an organic whole.

The Democrats, of course, are sputtering in outrage. You will not be surprised that one of the silliest comments came from Nancy Pelosi:

Very few of the DACAs are “children”; in fact the oldest among them is now 36. I know the Democrats want to infantilize people, but that’s taking things a little far.

That said, Pelosi’s reference to “bargaining chips” does capture the way many people see a possible agreement: pick an immigration measure from Column A and another from Column B, and see if the Democrats will agree to support them in exchange for legalizing DACA.

Actually, though, there’s a logic to any bargain like this; it isn’t just a matter of horse-trading.

Upgrading the close to 800,000 illegal aliens with DACA would be a formal amnesty. And there are two major problems with any illegal-alien amnesty: It serves as an incentive for future illegal immigration, and it has downstream legal-immigration consequences.

Formalization of DACA would be no different from any other amnesty in this regard. And addressing those two harmful consequences of amnesty is what dictates what should be in any package. This isn’t haggling in the bazaar; it’s damage control.

As to the first problem: because amnestying past illegal aliens always, necessarily, affects the decision-making of prospective future illegal aliens, any DACA amnesty must be accompanied by enforcement measures. A deal must reduce the likelihood of future DACAs by making it harder for young illegal aliens to come in the future and remain long enough to grow up here.

Of course, limiting the magnetic effect of amnesty was the point of the grand bargain in 1986, which sought to close the loophole that let employers of illegals off scot-free. But the enforcement part of that bargain was vaporware, an airy promise that disappeared the moment the amnesty was completed.

But E-Verify already exists; last year, around half of new hires were screened through it. Rolling it out for the other half is something that would happen at the same time as the amnesty. It’s true that a future administration under, say, President Maxine Waters could fail to ensure compliance, but that’s a risk with any legislation in any area. Getting universal E-Verify on the books is worth the risk.

Legal immigration cuts are also integral to any meaningful deal. Once the DACAs get green cards (as they surely will, since a non-citizenship amnesty is politically unsustainable), they can petition for relatives, and once they naturalize, they can sponsor even more relatives, leading to ever-more family-chain migration. The RAISE Act’s elimination of the unlimited legal immigration category for parents of citizens is key here: If we’re going to amnesty young people in part because they did not make the decision to come here illegally, then those who did make that decision should not be permitted to benefit from the amnesty.

This is why my feared outcome of the White House trading DACA merely for some wall funding would be such a disaster. It’s not only that it would be throwing away the only immigration leverage there is against Democrats; it would be a failure on its own terms. Useful though a wall would be, it isn’t even in the top three most important enforcement policies we need. And failing to include legal immigration cuts would simply create new anchors in the U.S. for even more immigrants in the future.

A DACA deal would not be a 1,200-page monstrosity that seeks to do everything at once, like the Gang of Eight bill. Rather, it would seek to do just two things – lawfully amnesty illegal aliens who grew up here as Americans while limiting the harmful side-effects. Both parts are necessary to a coherent policy.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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