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Politics & Policy

On the Scope of Trump’s Proposed Dreamer Amnesty

Some voices on the right have expressed disappointment that the Trump administration’s proposed immigration deal would offer a path to citizenship not just to the 700,000 or so individuals who already received DACA protections but also to those who would have been eligible for DACA if they had applied, a total group of nearly 2 million.

One objection is that administering such a large amnesty would overload the system. I defer to others on whether that is true, but the answer would not settle the question of whether the broader Dreamer population should be offered citizenship if the offer is bureaucratically practicable. And on that particular question, I think the administration is correct.

The estimable Mark Krikorian finds it “morally dubious” to extend the amnesty beyond DACA recipients: “The reason [DACAns] have a compelling case for amnesty before all enforcement measures are in place and legal immigration curbed is that not only did they arrive here as minors but they voluntarily came forward and provided their information to the government. Those who chose not to do so should not be granted the same extraordinary act of mercy.” Certainly one can draw that distinction, but in my mind it does not carry the same weight as it does for Mark. While voluntary submission to the law must be a condition of any amnesty, DACA never was a permanent resolution — only legislation can provide “case closed” certainty. Many conservatives do not even think DACA was constitutional. So I don’t think the real test of whether Dreamers are willing to cooperate with the system has come — both because DACA was not, as I see it, a lawful operation of the system and because I can easily imagine that some Dreamers were reluctant to reveal themselves to the government, fearing that a subsequent administration would change course and come for them.

I also don’t consider the proposed amnesty to be an extraordinary act of mercy. To me it is 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. That consideration applies equally to DACAns and non-DACAn Dreamers, and seems to me a sufficient reason for offering both groups an unambiguous and constitutionally sound opportunity to right their circumstances.

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