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Politics & Policy

DACA Delusions

The Democrats’ identity-politics base insists upon a maximal DACA deal without substantive provisions to reduce immigration in the future, or even any meaningful steps to discourage illegal immigration. This position is shared by a number of immigration maximalists on the GOP side.

Consider two DACA deals that are on the table, both proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin. Their first proposal is H.R. 3440/S.1617, the “Dream Act of 2017.” They have more recently proposed the “Graham-Durbin deal” in an attempt to avert further government shutdowns over DACA. Although details of the Graham-Durbin deal are sparse, it appears to broaden amnesty beyond the Dream Act of 2017.

Many Americans seem to have a sense that there’s some clearly defined, moderately-sized group of potential DACA recipients. But as Mark Krikorian has written, there is a tendency to conflate people who have already received work permits through DACA – a group numbering around 700,000 – with so-called “Dreamers,” which, as Rich Lowry notes, numbers in the millions — even without taking fraud into account. Something that has mostly escaped public notice is that amnesty for “Dreamers” is not necessarily a one-time event. Under H.R. 3440, individuals who wish to apply for DACA must have graduated from high school or be enrolled in high school or a GED prep course. But that doesn’t mean that they must have graduated from, or be enrolled, in high school or a GED course when the law is passed. A five-year-old child who is currently enrolled in elementary school is eligible to apply for DACA when she enrolls in high school, as long as she has been in the country for four years on the date when the law takes effect. Furthermore, an illegal immigrant who is well past school age and has no high-school diploma or GED need merely enroll in a GED course and qualify for DACA.

Although it seems impossible, the new Graham-Durbin proposal is even more lax than H.R. 3440. According to at least one report, there are no educational requirements at all in Graham-Durbin. Even worse, according to an outline obtained by Politico’s Seung Min Kim, the Graham-Durbin proposal grants three-year renewable legal status to the parents of the amnesty recipients. This provision supposedly has teeth because the parents can’t be sponsored for green cards by their children. Big deal. The parents have the legal right to stay and work in the United States. They’re being rewarded for breaking the law. And they’re not prohibited from being sponsored by an individual other than one of their children.

If a legislative DACA fix resembles either H.R. 3440 or the Graham-Durbin proposal, the consequences of DACA will last for years. As mentioned above, under H.R. 3440, children who are too young to apply for DACA will be able to do so when they reach high school. And the CBO notes, “The bill does not place an upper age limit on applicants. That contrasts with DACA, which limited eligibility to those who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.” It appears that Graham-Durbin also doesn’t place an upper age limit on eligibility. This means that the population amnestied by a bill similar to this one will be much larger than the population that has already received deferred action through the DACA program.

In addition, by giving amnesty to children as young as five and individuals who barely missed the 1986 amnesty, this bill reveals the truth of the matter: This is about amnesty, period. It’s particularly indefensible that Graham-Durbin would provide legal status to the parents of DACA recipients. These are the actual wrongdoers who are responsible for the plight in which their children find themselves and which it’s now the supposed responsibility of the American people to rectify (although there are plenty of individuals in the population covered by DACA who came here under their own steam as teenagers, an inconvenient truth we’re admonished to ignore). Amnestying the parents of DACA recipients tells us what we all suspect – many, if not most, people in Washington don’t think illegal immigration is wrong and have no interest in stopping it.

Because the populations encompassed by H.R. 3440 and Graham-Durbin are much larger than the 700,000 DACA recipients, the cost to the public fisc will be much higher as well. CBO hasn’t studied the fiscal impact of Graham-Durbin, but as mentioned above, it has issued a report on H.R. 3440. And CBO estimates that H.R. 3440 “would increase direct spending by $26.8 billion over the 2018–2027 period. . . . The bill would increase revenues, on net, by $0.9 billion.” The outlays are primarily driven by the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits (which are refundable), Medicaid, SNAP, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security and Medicare, and higher-education benefits in the form of Pell Grants and the Federal Direct Loan Program.

Neither of the Graham-Durbin proposals does anything to seriously discourage future illegal immigration, stem chain migration, or limit immigration generally. The reason for that is very simple: the sponsors have no interest in limiting immigration, whether legal or illegal. A mere three years after the 1986 amnesty was passed, the New York Times reported, “The most sweeping effort to halt illegal immigration in American history, the 1986 overhaul of immigration law, may have cut the flow of illegal aliens less than expected and may have actually encouraged unlawful entry in several ways.” The Times also reported:

The 1986 law allowed 3.1 million previously illegal aliens to obtain legal status here. Recent studies show that many thousands of people crossed the border surreptitiously to take advantage of the program, some of them with falsified documents and personal histories. The mass of newly legalized immigrants is also acting as a magnet for illegal aliens who want to come to the United States to join friends and relatives.

Imagine that.

The article even quotes an up-and-coming young Democrat from New York, one Representative Charles E. Schumer, as complaining, “The legislation has had some effect but not close to what it should have been.” Given the abysmal failure of legislation he was “instrumental” in shaping, why would anyone give him a second bite at the apple 30 years later – when he isn’t even pretending to negotiate on behalf of American citizens as opposed to illegal aliens?

Any chance at meaningful immigration reform largely comes down to the resolve of three men: President Trump, Leader McConnell, and Speaker Ryan. Based on the above, the interests of Americans will be poorly served unless a DACA deal includes these elements:

1. A wall. Authorized and funds fully appropriated. (Contrary to assertions that a wall will do little to stem illegal immigration, the recent example of Hungary shows that border barriers work. Prior to the construction of a wall bordering Serbia, the number of migrants entering Hungary was 391,000. After the wall’s construction, that number dropped to 18,236 in 2016 and just 1,184 in the first half of 2017.)

2. If there’s to be an amnesty, a restriction thereon limited to the 700,000 individuals who have already received work permits through DACA.

3. No legal status for illegal-alien parents of DACA recipients.

4. Extending E-Verify requirements to all U.S. employers.

5. Ending chain migration.

6. Enhancing funding for H-1B and H-2B visa enforcement.

7. Ending the diversity visa lottery.


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