DACA needed to be rescinded to create a permanent solutionBy Nicolas Briscoe | 09/11/2017 12:02am
The raging debate over former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and President Donald Trump’s recent flirtation with ending it is a battle being fought on several fronts. The debates surrounding DACA generally take four forms: There are those debating the economic effects of “DREAMers”, children brought to the United States illegally at an early age, which have assimilated and been educated in the United States, on the American job market. There are those debating the appropriate use of executive power, as DACA was put in place at the discretion of the President without congressional or statutory authority to codify it as law. There are those who argue that the rule of law and order must take priority over all other debates, for without it, the policy arguments are entirely moot. And of course, the emotionally driven cries of racism and bigotry drown out the reasoned and policy-centric arguments being made by those on both sides of the aisle who seek first and foremost to craft good policy.
As a conservative, the most worrying part of the DACA debate is seeing many one-issue immigration voters resorting to using protectionist economics to defend the decision to rescind it. The argument has echoed in every immigration debate since the invention of American borders: immigrants steal American jobs. As the story goes, the 91% of DREAMers who are currently employed stole those jobs from Americans. This is a patently absurd claim. The economy is not rigid and immobile. It is not segregated into jobs for Americans and jobs for immigrants. Above all, however, our economy is not zero-sum. Capitalistic innovation ensures that wealth is always being created in the United States, constantly shifting the shape and size of our economy. If there are a finite and definite amount of jobs in the American economy, it logically follows that in order for someone to get a job, it must be stolen from someone else. However, conservatives understand that the economy is constantly transforming and expanding, carrying the job market along for the ride. The economic argument against DACA codification does not hold muster when examined under scrutiny. This is a cop-out use of a tired platitude in the immigration arena.
The second and most valid conservative argument against DACA is the shaky legal standing upon which it finds itself. It was implemented by executive degree in 2013, following years of congressional inaction on immigration reform. Frustrated and unable to use the bully pulpit of the presidency, President Obama introduced the measure as a stopgap effort in the ongoing struggle for reform. It was made very clear at the time that it was not a permanent solution, rather an exercise in prosecutorial discretion. It was shrewd political maneuvering, understanding that either a Democrat would succeed him and cement it into law or a Republican would succeed him and fear the political toll that reversing it would entail. What he failed to account for was a Trump succeeding him. As it becomes increasingly clear how well his gambit is paying off, it is also clear that DACA, as it stands, has no legal standing. The question becomes, then, do we rescind it or do we codify it through the legislative process?
Of course, we have the usual law and order ensemble echoing their distaste for DACA, and the apocalyptic crumbling of the societal structure many claim it represents. In truth, DACA does represent, at a very basic level, a purposeful disregard for United States immigration law. It is a willful deferment of prosecution for those who violated the laws. The children who came into the United States, though through no fault of their own, violated immigration law. As such, legally, they should be prosecuted. The ethics and morals of doing so notwithstanding, that is the law and the manner by which it is enforced. Not prosecuting these children is, undeniably, a failure of the American legal system.
As a result, we hear the refrains of “we are a nation of laws”, and “if we allow this, where does it end?” Those refrains have just cause—we are a nation of laws, and they are being purposefully ignored. But those refrains were noticeably absent from the right following the pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Logically, every one of those arguments should apply to the Presidential pardoning power. In pardoning Sheriff Arpaio, Donald Trump employed the prosecutorial discretion granted to him by virtue of his leadership of the executive branch and the Justice Department. Essentially, DACA is simply an extension of pardoning power. It is decidedly extra-constitutional, however not unconstitutional. So where were those claiming now that we must eliminate DACA and deport these children because “we are a nation of laws” during the pardoning process of Sherriff Joe, who repeatedly defied a Federal judge and landed in contempt? It is a question without an answer, but one that hopefully inspires self-reflection when using this particular argument.
Lastly, loudly and regrettably, we have the deafening chorus of those who claim touching DACA in any way is mean-spirited, cruel and racist. It is typically these arguments that make it to the forefront of Facebook arguments and spontaneous screaming matches on the street. “If you do not support DACA you are racist and hate kids!”, followed immediately by, “If you do support DACA you want American kids to suffer in joblessness as their rights are stolen by immigrants!”. Both these statements are ridiculous. It is possible to support or oppose DACA as currently drafted based entirely on substantive arguments enumerated above. Policy debates made on emotional grounds result inevitably in poor quality both in the debate and the resulting policy. Those making the argument that DACA ought to be kept because rescinding would be racist, or ended because if not, American kids will die, are two ends of the same hyperbolic spectrum. These emotionally driven cries should not be taken seriously, and serve only to cloud an already complex and multifaceted situation.
DACA does undeniably present a problem in its tenuous status. As such, leaving it as-is cannot be viewed as a legitimate course of action. Doing so would enable executive overreach, while cruelly leaving the DREAMers in an eternal, horribly stressful purgatory. DACA, as it currently stands, is the worst of all worlds. The debate should not focus on whether to keep or rescind it, but rather to codify it into law or allow it to expire. The economic benefits brought to the table by the DREAMers make deportation akin to hitting oneself in the nose to spite the face. Revision of DACA, however, must account for the importance of consistent, procedural respect for immigration law and the prosecutorial process. The complexity of the issue at hand makes it unlikely, if not impossible, that congress will legislate in a manner that pleases all sides of every coin. If only dreaming made it so.
Nicolas Briscoe is a senior majoring in history. His column runs biweekly.