The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Fair DACA Deal

Immigration restrictionists are seeking two different categories of concession in exchange for an amnesty of the “DREAMers.” (Lame name, but it has stuck. Why must every proposed piece of legislation — DREAMers were named after the DREAM Act — be given a cheesy acronym?)

On one hand are measures designed to bring about enforcement of existing immigration law, such as mandating the use of E-Verify or building the (mainly symbolic) border wall. On the other hand are reforms of existing law, such as restricting “chain migration” or reducing total immigration and prioritizing skilled immigrants.

To my mind there is a sharp moral distinction between those categories.

I accept the standard conservative argument that DACA was an executive usurpation of legislative power and a willful departure from our constitutional design. We have no king, and I want no quasi-king, even if I agree with him in favoring this or that outcome.

But I did want the outcome. It would be patently unfair to inflict suffering on this particular class of immigrants, who were brought to the country illegally by their parents, for a choice they did not make. I cannot even put all the blame on the parents. People should not enter countries illegally, but the people in question did not act in a vacuum. For a long, long time, we have made a collective political decision not to enforce our immigration laws, and we bear an according degree of responsibility for the result. 

I am no expert on immigration policy, but the reforms that the editors of NR have spent years calling for — i.e., the second category mentioned above — strike me, in their broad brushstrokes, as sensible. 

But conditioning an amnesty on substantively new laws can make moral sense only if we owe the DREAMers nothing. If the reality is otherwise; if, to borrow some of Jonah’s excellent words yesterday, it would be “politically and morally grotesque” to deport them; if, as I think, it would be similarly grotesque to leave them vulnerable to deportation or render them unable to work and study; then we can justifiably demand precisely one thing in exchange for an amnesty: real enforcement of existing immigration laws. For Republican legislators pursuing a particular policy-reform agenda to use these 800,000 lives as bargaining chips would partake of the grotesquerie.

And the same thing applies, mutatis mutandis, to Democrats.

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