The Washington Times reports that Luis Cobos-Cenobio, the man shown last week in a dash-cam video shooting at Arkansas police officers, is an illegal immigrant who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Of course, every demographic has its bad apples, so one incident hardly proves that DACA recipients are undesirable as immigrants. What is more disturbing here (from a policy perspective) is that Cobos-Cenobio reportedly has a history of arrests and charges that predate last week’s attack. Why was he not deported for them? It is one thing to argue that illegal immigrants as a group are not especially dangerous, but here we had a specific person with a demonstrated history of criminality in custody and let him go. That’s a difficult policy to defend.
The Times suggests that DACA itself may be the culprit. Contrary to other media reports, DACA recipients need not have clean criminal records. They can have up to two misdemeanor convictions – meaning they could plead down felony charges – as long as those misdemeanors are not “significant,” with significant defined in part as a sentence of more than 90 days in jail.
If the public understood that “law-abiding” DACA recipients could be sentenced to jail time and still be protected from deportation, the program would likely be less popular. Unfortunately, in their desire to use supportive rhetoric, experts who know better continue to portray DACA as limited to non-criminals. Take the recent order from the Ninth Circuit that DACA must continue. Page 29 of Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw’s opinion describes the conditions under which illegal immigrants may commit crimes but remain eligible for DACA. However, in the rest of her opinion she was apparently not aware of this information, as she claims (twice!) that DACA recipients have “clean criminal records.”
Similarly, earlier this year Vox’s Dara Lind incorrectly stated that “DACA doesn’t shield immigrants who’ve committed crimes.” Then her very next sentence provided the truth — “Immigrants aren’t eligible for DACA if they’ve committed a felony or significant misdemeanor, or three misdemeanors of any kind” — with no acknowledgment that the two sentences are contradictory. DACA does shield some immigrants from deportation despite their criminal history — including Luis Cobos-Cenobio, perhaps.