The DACA reaction: push comes to shove

The Thinker by Rodin

Hawkeye: How do you feel?
Private Peterson: All ready to go out and kill me some more “gooks”, sir.
Hawkeye: Wendell, another word for “gooks” is “people.”

M*A*S*H, Season 1, Episode 15

Conservatives are having a call to conscience. For more than a decade Congress has kicked the immigration can down the road, unable to figure out what to do about the millions of undocumented immigrants in our country with a set of immigration laws that clearly weren’t working.

Less obvious, at least to conservatives, is just how much these immigrants contributed to their standard of living. They kept much of our economy alive by doing backbreaking and mundane things like picking our crops, mowing our lawns and cleaning our houses. These “illegal immigrants” have been a boon to our economy, keeping our cost of living low and allowing the same people who are complaining about their presence to live way beyond their means through low inflation and cheap goods and labor. In addition they contributed payroll, Social Security and Medicare taxes, helping to keep these systems solvent although it’s unlikely they will ever collect from them. In short much of their true wealth was siphoned off to the very people most upset by their presence. Many of these people though were happy to look the other way if it meant their crops would get picked or their lawns mowed at bargain rates.

This unofficial system was actually a good deal for America, but not such a good deal for those who crossed the border illegally. In most cases it was a scary deal but a better deal than not crossing the border. Included among those crossing with Mom and Dad were their children, who were too young to give consent to their relocation. Born in another country they have become trapped in something of a no man’s land. Knowing little or nothing of the country where they were born they became in effect Americans. Now they face the very real risk of deportation.

Trying to act where Congress chose not to, the Obama administration created DACA: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It was a pragmatic way to deal with the problem on an interim basis, given that Congress never gives enough money to fully enforce its laws and wasn’t interested in tackling immigration reform legislatively. While each of the 800,000 DACA recipients have no path to citizenship under DACA they at least have had some certainty of not being deported for some period of time. In addition they could get jobs legally and attend college.

Now of course Trump wants to end DACA, or did. That at least is his threat if Congress does not figure out what to do with these “dreamers” in six months time. Trump being Trump, he’s been all over the map on the issue, sometimes expressing sympathy for DACA recipients and sometimes lumping them into the “rapists and thieves” category he used to win election. A couple of days ago he met House and Senate minority leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for dinner. Nancy and Chuck were of the impression that they had struck a deal on DACA that Trump would support.

That lasted until the next morning when Trump discovered the blowback from conservatives. Suddenly it became no deal, or rather maybe a deal if there could be massive funding for his border wall. In any event, any DACA fix was completely anathema to his conservative base. Sensing that he could not further shrink his dwindling base of support, Trump quickly back-peddled.

Just fifteen percent of Americans support deporting these “dreamers.” In fact most Americans would welcome immigration reform, but it seems to be politically impossible. There is some hope that Congress might at least legislate a DACA fix. It’s unlikely though that such a fix would lead to permanent residency or citizenship for DACA recipients. Most likely it would simply allow the current policy to continue, allowing legal work status but with little possibility of full enfranchisement.

To these conservatives though none of inhumane aspects of ending DACA matters. They don’t care how distraught these DACA recipients are. Laws were broken and they cannot be excused even when those who pay the price are innocent by not having given consent. Trapped in their ideological prison, these conservatives appear beyond conscience. They would have 800,000 innocent people deported to countries they do not know (and where in many cases they cannot even speak the language) for crimes of their parents. In the process they reveal the soulless and inhumane people they actually are. Like Private Wendell Peterson (played by Ron Howard) they see only “illegals”, not humans. For them when the law is broken the prison of ideology requires them to put compassion aside, even if these DACA recipients had no say in their situation.

It’s crazy, it’s inhumane and it speaks to the worst of Americans. It’s like that scene from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup. Who are you going to believe, conservatives: your ideology or your own eyes? For conservatives, their answer is horrendously cruel and sadly obvious.