The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Little DACA Honesty

It is surreal to look at more than a dozen clips of Barack Obama in non-campaign mode prior to 2012 assuring the country (“I am not king”) that he simply could not usurp the power of the Congress and by fiat illegally issue blanket amnesties in precisely the fashion he would in 2012 — presumably on the assumption that new polls worded along the lines of “would you deport small children brought by their parents to the country as infants” showed a majority of Americans would not.

So, on the basis of both short-term gain in 2012 and long-term progressive interest in creating a new demographic reality in swing states in the southwest, Obama eagerly did exactly what he had said that he could not legally do — and not with reluctance, but with the self-righteous zeal of a convert, and in condemnation of anyone morally suspect enough to have agreed with his position prior to his reelection campaign. Such is identity politics.

But note his about-face came only after the fact that from January 2009 to January 2011, Obama enjoyed a large majority in the House, and until Scott Brown’s election in 2010, a supermajority in the Senate, led by Harry Reid. And yet over that period, Obama did not force over the impotent objections of Republicans a DACA bill that would now have precluded the present conundrum — in the fashion in which he had successfully pushed through Obamacare without a single Republican vote.

Observers have a right to be a little skeptical about the current outrage that was not voiced against an American president in 2009–12, who passed on the opportunity of DACA amnesty, and added insult to injury to “dreamers” by asserting that his constitutional lawyering made it unethical and illegal to pass a law by fiat and circumventing the Congress — at least until he needed reelection heft.

Trump’s six-month hiatus returns the issue to constitutionality and thus back into the hands of the Congress, and presumably it seeks to avoid ad hoc court decisions or executive orders.

Most Americans are not willing to grant blanket amnesty, but rather to offer in some cases legalized residence (if done constitutionally by Congress, and signed by the president) to those few hundred thousands who were brought illegally to the U.S. as minors and who have not committed a crime, are employed or in school, and are not on public assistance. I have had dozens of undocumented immigrants as students over the years, know many neighbors who are here illegally, and have personal friends without legality — and the stereotypes of those in their later twenties or early thirties who are employed or in school, speak fluent English, and are law-abiding are largely true: They are impressive people for whom a green card is a good idea.

That dispensation would leave it up to particular DACA immigrants to decide whether to enjoy renewable green-card residence or, in cases, to pay a fine (many after 18 and before DACA chose not to address their illegal status), satisfy existing requirements, and seek citizenship — a legislative compromise possible if the present aberration of massive illegal immigration is seen as a one-time lapse in the law, and we return to secure borders, credible fencing, and strict enforcement of existing immigration laws, and meritocratic, diverse, and ethnically blind legal-immigration reforms.

Yet many doubt that the critics of the present DACA reprieve are willing to adopt the latter conditions when they can demagogue the issue.

Left unseen also is the elephant in the room: If DACA immigrants are seen by both sides as a particular class alone deserving of ex officio amnesties (e.g., 800,000 to 1 million?), then de facto is that a concession that other adults who willingly broke the law in entering and residing in the U.S., often through illegal agencies of document fraud and false identities, are not eligible for a similar assortment of gradated amenities? Does DACA then offer final clarity about who is and is not eligible for green-card amnesty? Or is DACA a ruse or first step to blanket amnesties for 11-15 million to come?

And we will see whether immigration protests can square the circle of harsh criticism of the U.S. (as witnessed, for example, in prior Cinco de Mayo rallies, La Raza sloganeering, and the boilerplate of ethnic-studies curricula on campus) with the overwhelming desire to stay at all costs in a country so often unfairly damned as irredeemably racist and bigoted — in order to avoid at all costs crossing the border to countries so often romanticized in the abstract.

We are living in interesting but largely intellectually dishonest times.

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