DALLAS TWP. — President Donald Trump’s plan to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may be presented as decisive action in the immigration debate, but it actually demonstrates an American tradition of avoiding the issue, a Misericordia University professor believes.
“It strikes me that President Trump’s handling of DACA is reflective of a long history of nativist or anti-immigrant sentiment in America that has far too often been used by politicians for their own gain, without much consideration of the big picture issue: Governing immigration in the U.S.,” said Alan Austin, who specializes in immigration history.
While he could recall no case where the age of immigrants was a deciding factor in immigration actions, Austin said the country’s history has ample examples of politicians taking anti-immigrant stands without really talking about comprehensive immigration law.
“It seems pretty clear to me we ought to have a real honest, thorough conversation about our immigration policy,” he said. Assuming you don’t want to ban all immigration and don’t want to allow anyone to enter the country, “there is a lot of ground in between. But Americans have historically found it very difficult to talk about immigration because there are a lot of factions with different interests.”
Implemented by President Barack Obama, DACA allowed children brought to America by parents entering the country illegally to obtain renewable, two-year permits protecting against deportation, provided they met a string of requirements, including no criminal record.
But Obama launched the program as an executive order after failing to get Congress to pass what came to be called “Dreamer” legislation offering such protection. That gives critics grounds to claim DACA began as a political move dodging public debate on legislation, and Austin said it’s a valid argument.
DACA also lacked any path to citizenship — which, Austin noted, critics would call amnesty — making it look even more political rather than comprehensive policy.
But Trump made rescinding the program appear much more political by varying his stance, campaigning against DACA, then saying he loves Dreamers, and then having the Attorney General announce the decision to end the program while giving Congress six months to come up with an alternative. He added to the confusion by saying if Congress doesn’t act, he might revisit the issue.
Such a “whiplash” approach, Austin said, makes it “hard to understand the ideology behind it. It’s easier to understand the politics behind it.”
Regarding the idea of giving Congress a chance to act, Austin said the odds seem slim. “Obama’s argument was ‘I have to do this because Congress refused to act’,” he said. “Is there any reason to expect Congress has become more functional?”
Yet historically, this seems like one place where action would be easier to sell to the public, he added. Most anti-immigration arguments contend illegal immigrants are a drain on the nation’s resources, or adding to the country’s crime. Those who qualify for DACA permits are often educated, working and paying taxes while remaining ineligible for most government benefits.
“To me, if you look at American history through the lens of immigration, the dreamer story is in some ways a classic American immigration story we like to tell ourselves: Arriving in a new world, carving a place out yourself and contributing to the nation.”