First: I’m seeing a lot of liberals gloating about the great poll numbers the program has. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this; especially on immigration issues, the survey data are all over the map because most people don’t really know what they think and unscrupulous pollsters don’t hesitate to manipulate the data with loaded questions. Neil Munro has a good breakdown of the DACA-specific polls here.
A cleaner way of looking at this question is to consult the actual history of the DREAM Act, the bill that would give legal status to the folks covered by DACA. It has flopped repeatedly thanks to strenuous grassroots opposition, even early in the Obama administration when Democrats had the power to muscle through the Affordable Care Act. It bit the dust more than once in 2010 alone. Only three Republicans supported it in one vote, for example, where it fell five shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
True, the issue currently before us is slightly different: Thanks to DACA, the question today is whether (de facto) legal status will be taken away from DREAMers rather than granted. But the history really ought to make everyone skeptical that the DREAM Act by itself has a chance of passing. It didn’t pass with Democrats in charge, and now Republicans control both houses of Congress.
That brings us to my second point: If restrictionists are going to trade the DREAM Act for something else, what should they get? Enforcement? Reforms to the legal-immigration system? Both?
I think enforcement should be the clear priority, for the simple reason that it directly relates to the DREAM Act. Even if the final bill applies only to illegal immigrants who are already here, it will send the message that you can eventually get your kids legal status if you bring them here illegally. To counteract that, the compromise must include enforcement measures. My biggest priority would be requiring employers to use E-Verify to make sure their employees are here legally; my second would be intelligently planned, well-built border fencing.
A lot of people are saying Republicans should also get the RAISE Act or some part of it. As I’ve said before, I don’t think they have the cards to win the whole thing: DACA covers fewer than a million people — whose legal status, not presence in the country, is at issue — while the RAISE Act would cut legal immigration by half a million people per year going forward. That just doesn’t strike me as something immigration maximalists or even moderates will be into. Depending how the votes shake out, though, it may be possible to get some other elements of the bill, such as restricting family-based “chain migration” and selecting legal immigrants through a point system. But I’d pursue that only after making it clear that satisfactory enforcement measures are non-negotiable.