The DACA dilemmaBottom Highlights, Latest Issue, Politically Aware Thursday, September 14th, 2017
Commentary: Politically Aware
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program started by President Obama in 2012. DACA allows undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors and who do not have criminal records (among other criteria) to live and work in the United States.
Sessions announced a six month waiting period, during which President Trump called on Congress to take action to protect those covered by DACA, also known as the DREAMers from a prior legislative attempt to provide them legal status called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced support for a legislative solution that would permanently protect the DREAMers. Democrats are largely united in their support of DACA/DREAM Act protections.
How could an idea supported by the Republican president, the Republican speaker of the House and Democrats fail? Easily. Many Republicans think they need to get something in return for passing a DREAM Act. Democrats see no reason to negotiate. Both of them may be right.
Polls show a majority of Americans support letting the DREAMers stay. There is division about whether DREAMers should have a path to citizenship (58 percent, Politico/Morning Consult 8/31-9/3) or not (18 percent), but just 15 percent of registered voters, including only 24 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Trump voters, actually support their deportation. Making DACA protections into law would clearly be popular, and adding a path to citizenship isn’t out of the question. By demanding a vote on DACA legislation with no trade-offs, Democrats either get a win or a great issue for 2018.
Republicans, however, are looking at different and equally relevant data. Number crunching by fivethirtyeight.com shows that Trump did extremely well with primary voters who considered immigration their most important issue; indeed, the margins he ran up with these voters are arguably what carried him to victory. These energized voters also show up in low turnout elections, like midterm primaries. Unless Republican congressmembers can show they got something in return, like border wall funding, a vote to support DACA risks a primary challenge from someone more conservative. This appears to be what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is thinking, as he hasn’t voiced support for DACA, but is open to “securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works.” The resolution of this conundrum will depend largely on Trump, who has credibility with immigration hardliners and an impressive ability to change the minds of his voters. His aides have suggested that he will not require border wall funding to support DACA, and he already tweeted his support to DREAMers at Minority Leader Pelosi’s request. It would be ironic if the man who promised to “immediately terminate” DACA pushed the DREAM Act over the finish line, but if Trump stands firm, and can bring his voters along, he just might pull it off.
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