COMMENTARY: The DACA amnesty stalemate plaguing Congress


Last week, the Senate Judiciary held a hearing about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Barack Obama unilaterally created in 2012, and which President Donald Trump last month announced he was canceling. I attended the hearing and was not surprised at the deep divide between Republicans and Democrats on what should come next for the 800,000 work-authorized DACA recipients.

After Sept. 5, no new DACA applications were accepted, and renewal applications for participants whose benefits expire before March 5, 2018, were accepted through Oct. 5, and will be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. President Trump told Congress that it has six months to reach a legislative solution, but based on the Judiciary Committee’s divisive tone, a consensus appears out of reach.

Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in his opening and closing remarks that DACA amnesty, the Democrats’ goal, wouldn’t be considered without substantial enforcement provisions included. But including enforcement in DACA legislation is, according to Democrats, a non-starter. As Illinois Senator and committee member Dick Durbin said, attaching an enforcement laundry list to DACA won’t cut it. When the hearing adjourned, the two sides were stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

In their comments, Democrats referenced DACA superstars of which, in an 800,000 strong sampling, many can be found. One of the witnesses was a DACA medical student with impressive academic credentials. But because the Obama Administration implemented the program carelessly —few face-to-face interviews, superficial background checks and low eligibility standards — many DACA participants have less impressive résumes.

Among the most important and surprising revelations that came to light is that according to Harvard University research, and based on federal government data, most DACA recipients are between the ages of 20 and 36. And 320,000 DACA participants, about 40 percent, are either high school dropouts or have no education beyond the twelfth grade. These people directly compete with or displace America’s most vulnerable workers in the low-wage labor market sector.

Nevertheless, the collective sentiment among skeptical DACA witnesses was that amnesty might be acceptable but conditional on a major caveat — tangible enforcement must be put into effect now, not years later, and protection against future amnesties must be written into any compromise.

Students of immigration history know that one amnesty begets another, and spawn more illegal immigration. Grassley is right to demand enforcement. Here’s some of what Grassley wants: mandatory E-Verify to help American workers, an entry-exit visa system which ensures that visitors to the United States leave on their designated departure dates, and vigorous internal enforcement to find and remove overstays.

When Grassley gaveled the hearing to a close, both sides were stalemated, stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. A congressional solution is unlikely. A DACA decision will likely revert back to President Trump. Should President Trump repeat his predecessor’s mistake, and issue an executive order to protect DACA participants, he’ll put the Republican congressional majority at risk in 2018 and his 2020 future in deep doubt.