On DACA and Immigration
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this month the phasing out of DACA, the 2012 executive order allowing undocumented people brought to the United States as children to apply for work permits every two years in exchange for a fee. Sessions’s rationale for removal is predicated on three grounds: constitutional, humanitarian, and economic. He firstly asserts that President Obama acted beyond the scope of his constitutional authority in establishing the program, that the issue should have been left to Congress and that as an unconstitutional measure, ought to be repealed. For the Attorney General and President to assume the roles of arbiters of the constitution is inappropriate; the question of whether certain laws are or are not cconstitutional alwasy falls to the courts. Expansion of the DACA program was halted by the courts in 2015, but the program as it was initially laid out has held up under legal scrutiny.
Perhaps President Obama didn’t do himself any favors by posting on his Facebook page that he established DACA because he had “asked Congress for a bill” which “never came”, making it sounds as though he enacted DACA rashly and out of frustration, but he argued that he had the right to do so under the Constitution because DACA amounts to little more than “prosecutorial discretion”, a long-established right of the executive branch to decide which cases it pursues and which it does not. Obama’s executive branch, in other words, was simply choosing not to pursue the immigration cases of those brought here as children. This opinion by a former constitutional law professor would seem to hold up, but that is not ours to decide. The decision is up to the Courts, not to Jeff Sessions. And since the program, in its initial form, was upheld by the courts, Jeff Sessions’ first argument for repealing the program in its entirety falls apart.
Sessions’s second rationale for phasing out DACA, that the program has caused a surge of unaccompanied minors accross the border and that this surge led to a “terrible humanitarian crisis”, is blatantly false. No evidence supports the claim that the 2012 executive order led to an increase in cross-border traffic, much less a “terrible” humanitarian crisis. Apprehensions accross the border have been declining steadily since before Barack Obama was even elected , and the spike in migration from countries other than Mexico countries was underway in 2011, before the 2012 Executive Order was even implemented. The number of crossings from those countries then reversed itself in 2015 before climbing again in 2016, and is thought to be the result of a spike in violence and poverty in Central America . DACA did not spur any additional migration by unaccompanied minors who dreamed of one day paying for renewable work permits biannually, and there was no corresponding humanitarian crisis on the southern border. Sessions is mistaken.
His third reason given for the repeal of DACA is a widely held belief in economics: that illegal immigrants depress wages and take jobs for Americans. The premise for this argument is straightforward enough: examining labor as a commodity, with a supply composed of workers, a demand composed of employers, and a price based on the relative strength of supply and demand. When the supply of a commodity increases, its price goes down. The price of labor is a wage, so if the supply of labor goes up, wages go down. Ending DACA, and, more broadly, reducing immigration as a whole, will drive down the price of labor for Americans, freeing up jobs and increasing wages.
Basic economics tends to oversimplify. Labor is not a sole commodity; on the issue of DACA, participants in the program and unemployed Americans are imperfect substitutes. The effect of immigration on an economy is complicated, and on net, research shows it to be positive. Some studies even show immigrants raise wages . What creates jobs is demand. When immigrants come to America, they bring with them demand for goods and services, and they bring with them skills and ideas that help to produce more goods and services. The idea that there is a fixed amount of work and surplus labor will cause economic hardship is short sighted; the same argument could be, and was applied to women attempting to enter into the workforce in the 1920’s and 1930’s; in theory, the workforce at the time would more than double, as women competed with men for jobs, which would depress wages and employment. What ended up happening was that the economy was greatly expanded, women’s talents were utilized, and today America is richer, more productive, and more fully employed than it ever was in the prewar era. Granted, technological advances also played a role, but technological advances are also accused of killing jobs, and they often do. “Creative destruction” destroys jobs, but it creates others, and as a country we are better off. Is the solution to not advance technologically? Of course not. The same is true of immigration; when hardworking people, be they laborers or highly skilled and educated travel to America, they bring talents, they bring ideas. Albert Einstein was an immigrant, and he split the atom and allowed the United States to defeat the Japanese Empire in Asia. Immigrants have children who go on to do great things; Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian refugee. In the long run, and perhaps the short run too, immigration to the United States greatly improves the economy. The Chamber of Commerce knows this; they warned President Trump not to repeal DACA. Most economists and lawmakers would agree. But he and Sessions did anyway. Why?
One posssible reading of the situation is that immigration policy for the right has become an issue not of law, of humanitarianism, or of economics, but of identity. What do Americans look and sound like? The question of American identity is the reason President Trump endorsed a Senate bill that would cut legal immigration in half and favor those fluent in English. On the surface, favoring those fluent in English seems reasonable; it’s easier to prosper in this country if you do learn English. But people who come to America will learn English if they have to, at least enough to perform a job, even a high skilled one, and many will have children who will become fluent in English. A short term problem, the inconvenience of a new arrival speaking little English, is superfluous when looking at the long run economic and social impact of immigration. Which suggests another motive; it’s easier for a potential immigrant to become fluent in English if he already speaks a Germanic or Romance language, as are found in countries in Europe. It’s much harder if he comes from a country such as China, where the structure of the language is completely different. This rule will keep America more European.
Further, no serious person, let alone policymaker, believes that building a wall on the Mexican border will stop illegal immigration. It wouldn’t. But a big, beautiful wall, would certainly be clear in its demarcation of an “us” versus “them”. “Those” people are foreign, brown, and don’t speak English. They are to be feared. He called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” in his June 2015 campaign announcement. Labelling a group as “rapists” has an ugly history America, going back to the days of Jim Crow and lynchings. The idea of rape evokes visceral, emotional reactions, as it should. Rape rightly equals disgust. When Candidate Trump says that undocumented Mexican immigrants are rapists, the disgust of the people eating his words up does not lead them to associate brutality with the abstract concept of legal status or lackthereof. Their reaction is simpler, more primal. Brutality is associated in the minds of Trump and his followers on “those” people, those foreign, brown people who don’t speak English.That is why Candidate Trump falsely claimed that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated on 9/11, said they should be banned, and his followers ate it up. Racial fearmongering. Americans don’t look or worship that way. Congressman Steve King said that we could not rebuild “our” civilization with “someone else’s” babies. A loud, racial dogwhistle. . Hate crimes have spiked since the campaigns began, with hundreds of racially motivated attacks coming after election day, the plurality of which were anti-immigrant. When white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, they chanted “you will not replace us”, and President Trump failed to condemn them until he came under immense pressure to do so. Attorney General Sessions was denied a Federal Judgeship in the 1980’s after it came to light that, among other things, he had called a white attorney who defended black clients a “race traitor.” Ann Coulter, a fervent supporter of them both, wrote an entire book about how immigration, letting “those” people into “our” country, would result in the destruction of American civilization.
The Trump-Sessions immigration doctrine is motivated wholly by the politics of white identity. America is a white country, America is a Christian country. And it has a big following. Donald Trump came in second in the popular vote, with over 62 million Americans voting for him. Jeff Sessions has been in the public arena for decades now, and someone is watching Ann Coulter’s show and buying her books. Mainstream Democrats and Republicans alike agree on support DACA and immigration in general, recognizing the net economic and social positives both provide. But a rational cost-benefit analysis is not what going on, at least not in a way recognizable to most. The benefit is restoring America’s whiteness, to what it used to be back when it was “great” and what those in power believe it should be again. The cost is American values. And the faction willing to make that trade is in power and growing.