The Lie Behind DACA's Legal Defense

Posted: Aug 05, 2014 12:10 PM
The Lie Behind DACA's Legal Defense

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was ambushed yesterday by two immigration activists who have been granted temporary amnesty by President Obama through his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Considering his incendiary past, King did little to further embarrass himself in the video, but I want to call attention to what DACA recipient Erika Andiola says to King early in the exchange.

"I know you want to get rid of DACA," Andiola says, "so I just wanted to give you the opportunity to get rid of it, just rip mine."

At that point Andiola hands King what appears to be her Department of Homeland Security issued Employment Authorization Card (like this one here). Andiola then continues, "You can go ahead and do that. If you take my DACA you are going to take really everything that right now I have accomplished, graduating college. You can go ahead and rip it up."

This exchange perfectly exposes the lie behind the legal justification for Obama's DACA program. Writing at The New Republic, for example, Eric Posner reasons:

It’s not entirely clear what Obama plans to do, but if he chooses not to enforce immigration laws against “up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants,” as Douthat claims, the president wouldn’t be doing anything different from what his predecessors have done (or rather, not done).

Millions of illegal immigrants have lived in the United States for decades, under a semi-official policy that allows them to stay as long as they don’t commit serious crimes—and that, in many cases, allows them to obtain drivers’ licenses. The main effect of Obama's proposal would be to officially recognize current practice.

Yes, it is true that every president before Obama has practiced a semi-official policy of not rounding up every illegal immigrant in the United States. And yes, this type of prioritization is perfectly lawful and necessary.

And in 2011, a memo written by ICE Director John Morton both expanded and formalized that practice. As a result, interior deportations, in places like Iowa, have plummeted under Obama. "If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it's just highly unlikely to happen," former-ICE acting director John Sandweg told The Los Angeles Times.

So even before DACA, otherwise law abiding illegal immigrants like Andiola faced no threat of deportation thanks to Obama's prosecutorial discretion.

But Obama had promised Latinos far more than that when he first campaigned for president in 2008. He promised real immigration legislation his first year in office and he completely failed to deliver. He needed something more to give to Latinos if he wanted them to vote for him in 2012. Hence, DACA.

In the past, presidents have granted Deferred Action status to small groups of immigrants for humanitarian and foreign policy reasons (President Bush granted such status to foreign students affected by Hurricane Katrina).

But never before had a president granted such broad based relief to the general illegal immigrant population, created a special form for them to apply, and required a set application fee to receive Deferred Action benefits.

Obama's DACA program changed all that. Instead of just prioritizing otherwise law biding illegal immigrants, like Andiola, at the bottom of the immigration enforcement list, Obama gifted them a legal status and work permits (and is even forcing states to issue them drivers licenses). This is a night and day change from "what his predecessors have done (or rather, not done)" on the issue.

I have no doubt that Andiola worked her to get her degree from Arizona State university. And I definitely sympathize with her mother who came to the United States from Mexico to escape an abusive husband.

But I'd also ask Andiola this: If she is given the right to become an American citizen, why shouldn't that same right be extended to every child crossing the border from Central America right now? Did they not work as hard to get here? Is the violence they face in their home countries not as bad as the violence her mother faced in Mexico? Should the United States just give everyone who can enter the U.S. citizenship?

These are all tough questions, with tough answers that should be addressed through a democratic process. Not expeditiously shoved under the rug for political opportunistic reasons by a desperate president up for reelection.