The Corner

Politics & Policy

Re: DACA or DACA-Plus?

(Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

Earlier this week, Mark Krikorian continued our disagreement about the scope of the Trump administration’s proposed “Dreamer” amnesty. I thank him for his detailed reply but am unmoved by it.

To recapitulate, Krikorian supports an amnesty — if coupled with suitable enforcement measures — for those who already received DACA protections but would not extend the amnesty to Dreamers who did not apply for DACA. I agree with the Trump administration and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in thinking that the amnesty should be available to the latter group as well.

Quoting me, Krikorian summarizes my argument as follows: “Even the non-DACA dreamers are ‘deeply rooted here, often with no plausible alternative,’ and they ‘are not blameworthy for having entered the country without authorization.’” The second consideration Krikorian dismisses as “little more than a talking point,” since “children often suffer for their parents’ mistakes”: “When the bank forecloses on a house because the adults can’t pay the mortgage, the children don’t get to stay because the loan default was ‘no fault of their own.’” Having provided this counterexample, he collapses my position entirely into the first consideration (“deeply rooted here, often with no plausible alternative”), which morphs in his later paragraphs into something I did not say: that the people in question “know no other country.” Krikorian then rejects this idea by noting that people who entered the country up to the age of 16 could apply for DACA, after only five years’ residence in the United States — for how can it be true that someone who came here between the ages of 15 and 16, five years ago, knows no other country?

Krirkorian subtly misstates my view in another way: by presenting the two considerations as if I had given them equal weight. What I wrote was that a Dreamer amnesty would be a “simple acknowledgment of the reality that the people in question — whose lives are (speaking in general) deeply rooted here, often with no plausible alternative — are not blameworthy for having entered the country without authorization.” As you can see, I presented only the second consideration as categorical and decisive. This is consistent with what I wrote on another occasion: that “someone who is not meaningfully accountable for having violated the law should be held blameless.”

Now it is clearly true that someone who “knows no other country” will suffer in a particularly acute way if we deport him. But my basic point was not restricted to such cases. It was rather that we should do everything we can to avoid inflicting hardship on people who are not responsible for having immigrated without authorization and who have established their lives here. And that point applies also to someone who has been here five years and does have memories of a former home. Even in such a case, deportation means completely uprooting someone and separating him or her, by force, from friends, family, school, and work in the United States.

So the only portion of Krikorian’s reply that engages my argument rather than attacking a straw man is the eviction counterexample — which is inapt. It is not possible to evict parents without evicting their children (presumably lenders would do so if they could). But Dreamers have immigration statuses as individuals and would be the direct targets of any enforcement actions, which could therefore be separated from actions taken against their parents. A case in which we cannot draw such a distinction is irrelevant to a case in which we can. (I do not support deporting the parents, either, as I have explained, but I think it would be reasonable to fine them while imposing no penalty on their children.)

Two further observations:

First, I think Krikorian’s arguments about national identity prove too much. In general, we allow lawful permanent residents to apply for citizenship after five years. Immigration restrictionists have had many policy priorities — from enforcing the border to curtailing family-based immigration to mandating the use of E-Verify to ending the diversity lottery to prioritizing skilled immigration — but upping the residency requirement to apply for citizenship has not been one of them. (You will not, for example, find such a proposal listed as one of the “Sensible Solutions” at the website of NumbersUSA, which Krikorian cites as “the nation’s leading restrictionist advocacy group.”) But if we think a legal resident can acquire American identity after five years, why don’t we think the same thing about a Dreamer? (One might not care about identity — the argument could be, for example, that skilled permanent residents contribute to our economy in a way that Dreamers don’t — but this would be quite at odds with the Right’s usual ideas about patriotism and cultural cohesion. One might also suspect that a legal resident acquires American identity more quickly than a Dreamer because the former is better integrated into our economy and society. But this argument would cut both ways, since it would imply that the best way to fully Americanize a Dreamer is to let him or her reside here legally.)

Something similar is true of Krikorian’s remarks about age. He has observed that a 15-year-old taken to live in Mexico will “always remain, psychologically, an American, because his identity is already formed.” Krikorian also cites unnamed psychologists as having found that “ages six to seven mark an important milestone in children’s cognitive development (including their national identification).” But if this is so, why should we ever allow an adult to immigrate? On the other hand, if you have known a patriotic American who immigrated as an adult, you know that national identity is not set in stone at a young age. Or to put the point a bit differently: Whatever the sense in which national identity is formed at age six or seven, it is not the sense relevant to the naturalization of U.S. citizens.

Second, it is hard for me to make sense of Krikorian’s support for amnestying current DACAns. He says that doing so can be “purely pragmatic”: “While Obama’s actions were unlawful, they have created facts on the ground that, as conservatives, we arguably should acknowledge.” But in general we don’t acknowledge facts on the ground just because they are facts on the ground. This would make the significance of something’s being a fact on the ground entirely vacuous and serve as a justification for perpetually maintaining the status quo. Krikorian goes on to note that current DACAns “applied in good faith, paid fees, were issued work permits, and were lawfully hired.” This seems to suggest that we owe them some kind of obligation purely in virtue of having implemented DACA. But DACA was never presented as a permanent arrangement and was always subject to revocation by a future administration. We would not be going back on our word by ending the program now.

Ultimately, if you want to amnesty the DACAns, you must think that DACA had either some kind of permanent legal force or some kind of policy merit. Most conservatives do not think the first. I think the second, which is why I support amnestying the broader Dreamer population. But given that Krikorian thinks neither, it seems he should propose starting from scratch with an amnesty restricted to those who meet his exceedingly stringent requirements for being “psychologically and emotionally American.”


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