Immigration policy always spurs a debate. It’s a complex matter, but also there’s so much emotion on both sides. But the current debate suffers from an unfortunate malady. One side seems not actually to want the policy it claims it wants; it instead simply wants the fight.
Democrats, while gnashing their teeth about the fate of “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants who arrived as children, behave as though they don’t actually want to keep these immigrants in the country. Instead, they want to keep the Dreamer issue alive for political gain in 2018 and 2020.
Here’s the background.
No White House or leading lawmaker of either party has seriously entertained deporting 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Trump both used discretion and triage in deciding which illegal immigrants to target for deportation. Violent felons were always at the top of the list, for instance.
This is selective enforcement, and while it may seem discriminatory or lazy, it’s necessary in all aspects of law enforcement, given the scarcity of resources and manpower. Obama decided that one aspect of his selective enforcement would be allowing young people who entered illegally before their 16th birthday (such as children brought in by their parents) to apply for protection from deportation. These young people were called Dreamers because an early bill proposing relief for them was called the DREAM Act.
“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” was the name of Obama’s executive action, which clearly invokes selective enforcement. Immigration law experts called it “administrative relief from deportation.”
It’s a reasonable application of selective enforcement. These people generally didn’t break immigration law of their own volition, and immigrants are eligible only if they haven’t committed felonies. But as an executive action, DACA didn’t legalize these immigrants. It merely put off their deportation.
Trump last year said he would end this executive action in six months and pressed Congress to act before DACA expires. Democrats decry this decision as grossly inhumane. Their expressed sympathy for these young folks in America is admirable. We have to question their sincerity, though. (It’s worth pondering whether what they really think inhumane is the president’s decision to force them to do their jobs and negotiate the passage of bipartisan legislation, when his predecessor let them off the hook by issuing edicts ordering the policies that his party liked.)
In exchange for a legislative grant of relief to young illegal immigrants, Republicans demand a single, straightforward, concession in return: a wall on the southern border.
This was the cardinal campaign promise on which Trump was elected president. A trade-off of border security for clemency for blameless illegal immigrants is reasonable and logical. The wall isn’t the only way to increase border security, but it’s the one the president wants most, in part because it’s the one a future Congress can’t easily just defund — where you build a wall, there the wall stands until it’s torn down.
Any legislative upgrade to enforcement that is less permanent than a wall would be vulnerable — doomed, one thinks — the next time a Democrat is in the White House and able to practice selective enforcement. Many borders around the world have walls on them — when you pass through immigration at any international airport, you are facing, effectively, a border wall — but Democrats find the idea offensive, even though it merely uses steel and concrete to enforce the existing law that entry into American should take place only through official checkpoints.
What Democrats really hate is the idea of giving Trump and the GOP a popular policy victory in a year when they’d prefer to amp up their resistance to the point of complete intransigence in order to win the midterm congressional elections.
So the question is, are Democrats’ trumpeted concerns about young immigrants sufficiently real that they’ll grant authority to fund the border wall or is their humanitarian hand-wringing just a politically motivated sham?
So far, the answer is no, they don’t care enough to be flexible. Democrats care more about blocking Trump’s central campaign promise than they care about the Dreamers. Democrat after Democrat has said they will not accept a deal to codify DACA in exchange for a wall.
Opposing Trump is paramount to Democrats. Everything else is secondary. Passing DACA legislatively would also have the politically unwanted effect of taking the issue off the table for Democrats in this year’s elections.
As the immigration debate heats up, all observers and commentators ought to keep this in mind that Democrats may legitimately care about these young illegal immigrants affected by DACA, but not enough to fix the problem.