DACA: Myths & Facts

President Trump’s latest executive order on immigration has spurred yet another partisan debate on immigration reform. However in the whirlwind of this discussion, there is a vacuum of facts which has been replaced by angry rhetoric and shoddily crafted talking points. For many it is either an illegal, taxpayer swindling act of amnesty or a peak achievement of liberal Christian charity.

In reality Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the president’s recent move regarding it, represents yet another failed attempt to seriously address immigration reform. In this piece, we here at Cafe Con Leche Republicans hope to set some myths straight and offer a way out of this morass.

What is DACA?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was crafted in response to a continuing immigration crisis. Though Congress had attempted to reform our immigration system in the past, bipartisan talks had broken down.

One particular bill that had widespread bipartisan support was the DREAM Act. This bill would offer conditional legal status to undocumented immigrants who had entered the U.S. before the age of 16, passed a background check, had graduated from an American high school or had obtained a GED, and had lived continuously in the U.S. for at least 5 years. After graduating from an American college or serving in the United States military, living here for another 6 years, and passing yet another background check, prospective recipients (often called DREAMers) would receive permanent legal residency. This reform was popular with Americans on both sides of the political divide as it appealed to the American sense of fairness (children accompanying their parents could hardly be said to have willingly violated American immigration laws) and required contributions to America before being given legal status. However despite regular efforts, a coalition of Republican restrictionists and Blue Dog Democrats killed the DREAM Act.

Here at Cafe Con Leche Republicans, we advocated strongly for such an act and highlighted the stories of those known to us personally who would benefit the United States by being given legal status.

In 2012, before the presidential election, then-President Obama signed an executive order creating DACA. Its provisions largely resembled an executive version of the DREAM Act. It directed ICE to exercise discretion and not deport individuals who would have qualified for the DREAM Act. Obama extended this discretion for a two year period and required individuals to apply for a renewal. Furthermore it granted an Employment Authorization Document to those who had been granted deferred action. As of this year over 800,000 had signed up for DACA.

Trump’s Response

Then-candidate Donald Trump had a mixed record on DACA. On the one hand he promised to remove those who had arrived here as children, on other days he claimed he would “work something out” with DREAMers. It seems Trump’s stance was largely dictated by who he had spoken to last. Trump surprised many critics and allies when he decided, for the moment, to retain DACA in January of this year.

However, pushed by states which will sue for its removal on September 5th, President Trump will reportedly rescind DACA tomorrow. According to Politico, the White House will grant a six month delay in order for Congress to craft a legislative response. If this is accurate, according to Cato Institute’s David Bier, “the program will likely not disappear overnight. Rather, it will slowly wind down over the next two years.”

Myths & Facts

While awaiting the exact nature of the White House response, the debate over the 2012 program has reignited, rekindling some old myths and misconceptions.

MYTH: DACA is amnesty.

FACT: DACA conferred no legal status nor granted amnesty for breaking immigration laws.

Deferred action simply exercised executive discretion to not remove foreign residents who would have qualified for the DREAM Act, had it passed. For liberals, it is important to note that Obama did not grant legal status to anyone. For conservatives, we must remember no one was granted legal amnesty under the program. We tend to forget amnesty has a rather narrow definition in the law, where a functional pardon is granted to a whole class of offenders. Recently it has metamorphosed into any granting of legal status to undocumented immigrants. Even by this broader definition, DACA was not amnesty.

MYTH: DACA was a great achievement of the Obama administration.

FACT: Obama routinely punted the issue, playing a hand in creating this current crisis.

Even if one were to set aside the fact that, under the Obama administration, millions of undocumented immigrants were deported, it is hard to view Obama’s moves on immigration as anything else besides crass politics. After promising his voters an immigration bill in his first term, Obama and his congressional allies took no action, even after they had control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency. Even how they crafted DACA set up young immigrants for deportation as the federal government now has the personal information of hundreds of thousands of recipients. The former president’s record on this issue is abysmally cynical and he, like Congress and President Trump, bears some responsibility for the issues we now face.

MYTH: DACA is unconstitutional.

FACT: Arguably, yes and no.

While there are solid legal grounds for the executive branch to exercise systematic discretion in the application of the law, the unilateral creation of programs like granting Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) probably violates the separation of powers. Ross Douthat of the New York Times, explains;

Posner points out that the DEA ‘focuses on criminal syndicates rather than ordinary drug users, although both violate federal law.’ But that’s rather different from a scenario in which President Rand Paul announces that, because Congress won’t reform sentencing as he desires, he’s issuing permits to domestic cocaine and heroin dealers exempting them from drug laws.

In short, the president likely has the power to prioritize upon who he will enforce the law, but likely does not have the power to create legal work programs out of thin air.

MYTH: DACA recipients are criminals and need to be punished.

FACT: DACA recipients are statistically more law abiding than natives.

Regardless of how one feels about immigration laws, it seems fatuous to argue that a child brought over by their parents is an active and willing participant in breaking immigration laws, which is at most a misdemeanor. Furthermore DACA recipients have a much lower criminality rate than their native born counterparts. This trend is also true of undocument immigrants who are not eligible for DACA and legal immigrants in general. Lastly, DACA is not a blanket shield. If convicted of crimes here in the U.S., a DACA recipient is subject to deportation.

MYTH: DACA is too expensive.

FACT: DACA is almost entirely funded by DACA recipients themselves.

While DACA costs around $600 million, it bears repeating that cost is funded by those who apply for the program to begin with. Applications and renewals cost the applicant hundreds of dollars.

MYTH: DACA harms our economy, taking away jobs and taking up public resources.

FACT: DACA has a net-positive economic impact on the United States.

First and foremost it should be noted that most DACA recipients are in school, thus minimizing their potential to compete with natives for jobs. Furthermore, low skill natives and low skill immigrants do not largely compete with each other for jobs as they pursue different career tracks. Overall, research economic research concludes;

Data show that, on net, immigrants expand the U.S. economy’s productive capacity, stimulate investment, and promote specialization that in the long run boosts productivity. Consistent with previous research, there is no evidence that these effects take place at the expense of jobs for workers born in the United States.

In fact, rescinding DACA would likely negatively impact local markets. Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be shed in wake of ending DACA, costing U.S. business billions in increased costs and taking hundreds of billions out of the U.S. economy. Ending DACA would be a classic example of cutting of our nose to spite our face. In a fit of pique, many Americans would be economically worse off due to the local economic slowdown.

As far as public resources go, poor migrants, both legal and illegal, use less public resources than their native born counterparts. Specifically when it comes to education, young immigrants are a net positive to the U.S. taxpayer as we explained during the 2015 child refugee crisis:

Edward Schumacher-Matos found that while immigrant children remain high school drop outs, they will cost the state an annual $89,000. However if provided education, that same child will contribute a net $105,000. This is because educated children are an investment, not a cost. In economics jargon, it expands the production possibilities frontier. In layperson speak, a more educated populace allows for more possibilities of production which means more economic growth and prosperity.

The Way Forward

One positive development is Congressional Republican push back against deporting DACA recipients.  We can only hope that the Republican held Congress will hold President Trump to his word that he will “work something out” for those who were brought here not on their own accord. The president can “repeal and replace” DACA by encouraging Congress to pass a form of the DREAM Act, which he will sign. A reformed DREAM Act would solve any constitutional issues by coming from Congress, protect local markets from unnecessary dislocations and avoid any monstrous acts of unfairness.

Passing a form of relief for those brought here as children, perhaps with some concessions for increased funding for border security, would be proof that the White House can, in fact, break through a legislative impasse and broker deals to solve the immigration crisis.

 

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Joseph Laughon is a lifelong conservative and a proud Mexican-American. He was a campaign consultant to Martha Flores-Gibson in 2012 and was both the Vice Chairman of the College Republicans at Concordia University and the President of Nuestra Voz. He lives and writes in Long Beach, California.

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