Ending DACA Is Bad Policy. Fixing It Requires Respect On Both Sides.

Could I scream and shout about President Trump’s plan to close down the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program?  I could.  I could do so easily and with great sincerity.  Why? Because, however one feels about immigration policy — and as we shall soon see,  this entire debate is much more about deeply held feelings than it is about carefully considered thoughts — it’s crazy that this should be taking up our national attention at this time.  

We are currently dealing with two devastating hurricanes in as many weeks, North Korean nukes, a broke federal government, and levels of dissatisfaction with all of our elected officials at higher levels than they have been in at least 100 years.  Of course, all of these challenges must be addressed, and pretty much all simultaneously, but adding the planned cancellation of DACA?  It’s just nuts!  To be clear though, it’s not only nuts for that reason.  

It’s nuts, because canceling DACA punishes young people for the actions of their parents or guardians — principles most of us reject, regardless of political or philosophical orientation.  It’s nuts, because it means deporting productive, law abiding people who contribute to our society in a myriad of ways, including serving in the US military.  For those who don’t know, DACA status is reserved for people without any legal problems other than their immigration status.  

It’s nuts to cancel this program because it is logistically complicated and hugely expensive to deport 800,000 residents.  In fact, it will cost the federal government 60 billion dollars to enforce the rollback, and deport the Dreamers, and cost our economy as much as almost 300 billion dollars over the coming decade!  Those are big numbers, especially for pro-business, fiscal conservatives, which is why that entire wing of the Republican party is totally opposed to canceling the program.  In fact, more than two thirds of the public says that they are opposed to killing DACA.  So what the heck is going on here?

Why cancel a program that is largely popular, costly to repeal, fundamentally flies in the face of most people’s sense of justice, harms our economy and distracts us from far more urgent problems?  It makes no sense… so why?

Is it just pandering to racism and xenophobia?  I am sure that is the motivation for some, especially as those are largely fear-based positions,  not rational ones, and as we have seen, implementing this rollback works against most definitions of rational self-interest.  But I think that something larger is at work here — also something more emotional than rational, and getting at it, holds the key to crafting wiser, more reasoned and more compassionate responses when dealing with Dreamers, if not immigration policy as a whole. 

It comes down to two words — words which have resonance among otherwise bitterly divided political groups.  The words are fairness and amnesty.  

Both conservatives and progressives invoke fairness, but because they have radically different understandings of what that word means, spend most of their time just screaming at each other rather than accomplishing anything. 

Imagine what might happen if each side started with the sense that those they most oppose are no less committed to fairness than they are, even if they have a very different understanding of the term.  For starters, we could end the sanctimonious name calling, and instead figure out how we could honor a shared commitment to that grand value, with the understanding that when either side compromised on a particular policy, they were not necessarily giving up on their attachment to fairness as a value.  In fact, one could argue that the existence of multiple, even conflicting, ways of making policy, is the hallmark of a values-driven debate.  If it is big enough to be an animating value, then it is almost certainly big enough to be lived and implemented in various ways.

And when it comes to “amnesty” — a word which, for whatever reason, makes immigration conservatives’ blood boil — we could likely alter the DACA debate, if not the entire immigration debate, by simply asking how DACA “gives in on amnesty”, when those who are most affected were not the ones who willingly violated the law?!  Doing that, actually undermines the very understanding of justice which makes amnesty such a disturbing concept for some i.e. if you do the crime, you should do the time or pay the fine.  In the case of DACA repeal, however, kids are paying for the “sins of their fathers and mothers”.

So yeah, I could scream about DACA repeal.  I could even scream about racism, xenophobia, and injustice, and I wouldn’t be totally inaccurate were I to do so.  I just wouldn’t be likely to accomplish much, especially with those people who we most need to reverse the reversal. 

I want instead, to speak to people’s hearts, not lecture to their heads.  I want to honor people’s fears of amnesty and the multiple understandings of justice, about which decent people can disagree.  And with all that in mind, I want to invite people to ask how, without betraying their sense of their own core beliefs, how we might find better, law-respecting, more efficient and more compassionate responses to the needs of 800,000 young people who simply followed their families to a better life in what many of us still consider one of the greatest nations in the world.  

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