DACA Doublespeak

In an extraordinary move last week, President Trump brought congressional leaders to the White House for a vigorous discussion of immigration policy. What made the moment so remarkable is that the meeting—in a departure from the usual swampy Washington gesture reserved for scripted talking points and meaningless photo opportunities—was substantial and it was televised.

For nearly an hour, Trump and congressional leaders engaged in actual policy negotiation, in front of the nation (or at least anyone who bothered to tune in).

The format, while groundbreaking, still provided a forum for classic Washington doublespeak about immigration.

Democrats demanded a “clean” bill for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and a “pathway to citizenship.” For their part, Republicans nodded enthusiastically about “enhanced border security” and an “end to chain migration.”

But what does it all mean really? As previous immigration reform efforts have taught us, trust but verify. It’s important to know exactly what constitutes, say, “enhanced border security” before signing off on the measure.

Remember the “Gang of Eight” bill from 2013? The legislation contained meaningless border security measures that were trumpeted as border enforcement. It even had the phrase “border security” in the title!

In the interest of not being fooled again, here are the Washington buzzwords to look out for in the current DACA debate.

“Clean DACA bill.” Sounds great, right? So great that President Trump almost unwittingly agreed to it at Tuesday’s meeting, before Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) intervened. But for Conservatives, this is a nonstarter. A “clean” bill means that DACA recipients get amnesty for free. Congress will change no policies or institute any reforms. We can safely call this the worst outcome for Americans with a genuine desire to secure our borders.

“Ending chain migration.” Chain migration is the program that allows immigrants already residing in the United States to bring over members of their immediate and extended families. This doubles, sometimes triples, the impact of immigration. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, recent new immigrants sponsored an average of 3.45 family members for U.S. residence. The president has demanded an end to chain migration for all categories of immigration in exchange for a deal on DACA, however, some are discussing banning the practice just for DACA recipients. The bottom line? When you see a bill promoted as “ending chain migration,” your first question should be “for whom”?

“Enhanced border security.” As we’ve seen in previous immigration debates, Democrats and moderate Republicans will toss a few more dollars into a border patrol account and tout it as “enhanced border security,” while it’s actually completely ineffective. Don’t be fooled by the shiny label; border security is where Conservatives are most often bought off by watered-down promises that never materialize. Truly enhanced border security measures will include a mix of strong border security and interior enforcement: ending sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, deputizing states to enforce immigration laws, ending catch-and-release, mandating exit-entry visa tracking, and authorizing a border wall, to name a few.

“Border wall.” On the campaign trail, Trump famously pledged to build a wall along the southern border and to make Mexico pay for it. But Trump wasn’t the first to suggest this. Congress authorized a wall along the southern border in 2006. Many Democrats even voted for it. But the funding needed to complete the barrier never materialized. Any promises of “the wall” in exchange for a DACA deal must include a hard trigger that forces congressional funding. For example, commentator Daniel Horowitz suggests barring any new renewals of DACA until 850 miles of double-layered fence has been completed. Congress should not be allowed to take credit for “authorizing” the construction of a border wall. They actually have to get it paid for, too. 

Path to citizenship.” This buzzword, along with “special path to citizenship,” “legalization,” and others are often used to mask policy that is simply amnesty. Recall that the 2013 Gang of Eight bill hid its amnesty provisions behind the phrase “registered provisional” status. It wasn’t amnesty, backers argued, because the legal status it was conferring was only temporary. The problem? The legality was immediate, and the process ended in legal permanent residency. The 2013 bill also came up with a fancy “blue card” system to grant work authorization and lawful status to illegal agricultural workers—again, amnesty by another name. Congress can try to dress it up and call it something else, but there is only one word for proposals that grant legal status to those here illegally: amnesty.

That the debate over immigration reform has become this disoriented and confusing speaks to just how complex and controversial this issue has become.

True concern for securing America’s borders, however, is far simpler. Any immigration reform must prioritize strong and meaningful border protections and a respect for the rule of law—which means a total prohibition on amnesty, and a just and enforceable immigration system that protects the rights and dignity of all Americans.

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About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.