Are Republicans in Congress about to grant amnesty to the 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program?
A year ago, the question would have been unthinkable as Republicans rode the majority wave to the House, Senate, and the White House, in part because of their fierce opposition to DACA’s illegality.
Recent reports make clear, however, that DACA will be first on the agenda as Congress returns to work this month.
For their part, Democrats are thrilled. Many of them have been agitating for amnesty since President Obama implemented the program in 2012; some Democrats wanted to force a government shutdown over the issue at the end of last year.
Democrats have argued for years that these so-called “Dreamers” are, as President Obama put it, “Americans … in every single way but one: on paper.” He went on to call them “talented, driven, patriotic young people” who have “studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of [their] class.”
How unfair is it, Obama lamented, that these illegal immigrants would “suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country [they] know nothing about, with a language that [they] may not even speak.”
The five years since DACA was implemented, however, demonstrate that these claims, the rhetoric, and the policy hardly reflect reality.
For starters, a majority of DACA recipients aren’t young people. They’re adults, between the ages of 21 and 25.
While some of them are indeed highly educated and capable of contributing to the economy, most of them are not, possibly because the Obama administration routinely waived DACA’s education requirements for many applicants.
As a result, less than half of current DACA recipients have a high school education, despite a majority of them being adults. Moreover, an ongoing study by Harvard researcher Roberto G. Gonzalez found that, among the DACA recipients enrolled in high school, the dropout rate is nearly four times the national average. Likewise, only 20 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree, compared to about 32 percent of Americans who do.
The high drop-out rates and low educational attainment may have something to do with the lack of English fluency among the DACA population.
DACA itself does not require English fluency for an application. According to one study, 46 percent of DACA recipients have only basic English ability, and 24 percent of the DACA-eligible population is functionally illiterate.
These aren’t quite the “American in all but name,” college valedictorians that President Obama made them out to be. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that one-fifth of DACA-eligible illegal immigrants will be on food stamps in the next 10 years, costing taxpayers nearly $26 billion.
DACA recipients have also proven to be a troubling security threat.
Democrats continue to claim that DACA immigrants are model citizens, which is perhaps why the Obama Department of Homeland Security barely vetted any DACA applicants before handing out administrative amnesty.
According to documents released in a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Request, the Obama Administration carried out a “lean and light” system of background checks—a cursory review that resulted in only a few DACA applicants ever being fully vetted.
The results of such a low bar speak for themselves. In May, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested three DACA immigrants in a nationwide sweep of gangs, and announced that approximately 1,500 DACA recipients had their deferred status terminated due to “criminality or gang affiliation concerns.”
By August, that number had reached 2,139.
It is clear that DACA, as a policy, has been a failure. It has served both the citizen and immigration populations poorly, failing to address the individual humanitarian cases for individual applicants, and subjecting U.S. citizens to additional burdens and criminal activity.
As Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies put it recently, DACA “is a blunt instrument that protects some who can be described as sympathetic youth as well as a less sympathetic group who are more akin to ordinary illegal immigrants.”
President Trump in 2016 ran on the idea that DACA was a lawless and insufficient remedy to a deep and fundamental problem. Congressional Republicans did the same. A collective amnesia on the part of Republicans will not only hurt them in the 2018 midterms and it will damage the party’s remaining credibility for decades, if not generations.
That the American immigration system is in need of reform is without question. That amnesty in any form will accomplish this is a false and misleading premise.
As Republicans plan their 2018 agenda, three things need to be on their minds: the promises they made, the policies they committed to, and the consequences that await them if they choose an alternative path.