Jerking around Dreamers for political theater is cruel, and it makes us less secure

Learn more about how DACA works at USCIS.gov.

In this story

  • ‘Ending’ DACA is just political theater, but it’s really cruel to the people who suffer the impacts
  • People who entered America as children have committed no crime; there is no justification for calling them ‘illegals’
  • Proprietorial discretion is a long-standing element of US justice. And if you’ve ever rolled through a stop sign, you are glad that’s true

Yesterday, I warned that Trump’s action on DACA would have this serious unintended consequence:  Lack of cooperation with future immigration reform.  All these “Dreamers” registered with immigration, paid a fee, and applied for legal status to work. Even if Congress ultimately “saves” this group, the U.S. government has already shown that playing by the rules puts you at risk — risk of being on a list that’s ready-made for deportation. ANY coming immigration reform is going to have to include some sort of “make good” process for legal status. Pay back taxes, prove a spotless record, etc. When reform finally occurs, why should any immigrant trust that playing along will be good for them, and not just put them on another deportation list somewhere down the road?

As you might imagine, I got a wide range of reactions. I generally believe in letting readers get the last word, and I will. Feel free to pelt away at me below or on Facebook. But additional things need to be said about this issue, particularly to those who believe “the law is the law” and such.

I wish I could sit down with every one of you and talk about the difference between political theater and the “down here on planet Earth,” real-life implications of things.

First of all, everyone should realize that the 800,000 DACA protectees are not getting deported. They’re not. Trump as much said so last night on Twitter when he Tweeted he’d reexamine the issue if Congress didn’t act by his 6-month deadline. He’s just passed the football off to Congress. But in his announcement, Trump left juuust enough room that he’s thrown some red meat to those who cheer about anything anti-immigrant. (Leaking the ‘self-deport’ memo was a nice touch).

So if you support this because you believe it’s good for American jobs or whatnot, you’re going to be really disappointed. If you are one who is convinced that Dreamers are “illegals” who just need to go, and you support Trump, how do you square that with Trump telling Congress to make a law that lets them stay?

On the other hand — and I chose my initial language quite carefully — we are really, really screwing with these people putting them in this crazy legal limbo. It’s cruel, and unnecessary. Trump could easily have said, “Congress, do this!” He didn’t, because he didn’t have the courage. (And, just as a thought experiment, if you see this issue from the other side, Trump didn’t have the courage to throw them all out on Day 1, either)

Speaking of language, I see a lot of imprecision in it. We can all agree that to call someone an “illegal” they’d have to have done something illegal, right? Well, crossing the border as a minor is not a crime (for the minor). In fact,  none of these kids were charged with ANY crime, they submitted to criminal background checks. (They’re probably *less* illegal than many other groups).

I *do* think a fair-minded person can say that Obama overstepped his bounds when issuing DACA, and I can see the appeal for a law-and-order type to say, “I’m sorry, but you don’t actually have legal status to be in the country. That is the law.” (I assume all of you were at a Joe Arpaio pardon protest near you recently). Two things about that: Congress had for years tried, and failed, to pass what is essentially DACA on its own, largely because of a lack of intestinal fortitude. As an act of reasonable compassion, Obama found a way to ‘pass’ it himself — through the use of discretionary justice, a centuries-old concept that you and I encounter every day. Cops don’t enforce every law; judges don’t slap maximum sentences on everyone. That’s life here on planet Earth.

Folks who want to throw Dreamers out to satisfy their compulsive craving to obey the letter of the law no matter what should seek professional help; I also hope they soon end up on the other side of an IRS audit, and wish a bored cop sitting at every stop sign they roll through for all their days.

I do agree this is not a great way to set permanent immigration policy; it was just a pragmatic way to end a logjam on an issue that, secretly, most American and most in Congress really agree on. A permanent immigration fix by Congress is much preferable.  Do you think that’s coming soon? I didn’t think so. Is it a good idea to tell these kids who were brought across the border they should just stay in the shadows and wait when there is a perfectly reasonable solution available (and, by the way, one that has them paying taxes?). Hard for me to make sense of that.

The system we have now encourages and rewards extra-legal ways of doing things. Ask anyone who’s gone through the irrational, torturous, scam-riddled path we lay before immigrants who try to do it the “right” way and you’ll hear from every one that they hate the system, too. All of you know people impacted by this cruel game America makes immigrants play now.  Many of you might not realize it, but you do.

There *is* a rationale to signal to future families that dragging your kids across the border because *they* might some day get status that way. I think that’s a good idea. I am for immigration reform. I’m very much for enhanced border protection. I can’t believe we’re spending all this energy on Dreamers and not on making America safer.

That’s why we have to create incentives to do it the right way, and also come up with systems that deal with the reality we are all living in. Like getting people who are out of status to come forward and get status by following some procedure. Which is what Dreamers did.

Back to the real world. Just as no one is throwing out 800,000 Dreamers, no one is throwing out 10 million out-of-status immigrants. Just as no one is going to build a wall, which among the dumbest ideas I’ve heard in a long time. The problem isn’t people running across the border. The problem is people walking across, through immigration, and staying too long. All a wall would do is keep them here.

The wall is theater. It’s fun to chant. Just like this DACA order. The problem is this theater is really jerking around a lot of people. And instead of signaling to future generations that America has a fair but strong immigration policy, it merely signals that we don’t know what we’re doing. It foments division and rewards law-breakers. Quick: Who’s better off today, the Dreamers who registered? Or the Dreamer-eligible who did not?

We are all going to have to live with each other for a long time. It’s time we found both the brains and the heart to deal with this situation pragmatically and compassionately.

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About Bob Sullivan 1137 Articles

BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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