What Should Democrats Give to Protect DACA?


Protesters in Los Angeles march to protect the rights of Dreamers. (Photo courtesy of Molly Adams)

There are currently 800,000 people in the United States in a tight spot. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the executive order signed by President Obama allowing immigrants brought here as children to be protected from deportation, is about to expire. Congress seems to be deadlocked with the President as they try to find a middle ground that both protects these immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were previously allowed to stay by Obama and that satisfies Trump. Any viable proposal is likely to need both sides of the aisle in support of it, and will require Trump’s signature. It will be necessary for the two sides to reach a middle ground and to make concessions for this legislation to pass, and it must be done immediately, as the government is likely to shut down on Jan 19 without a funding bill.

So, what does each side want? Trump has asked for an end to the lottery system for choosing who to give visas to, billions for funding to his wall, and an increase in border security, which would include funding for increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activities. Democrats in Congress are aiming to protect the places that Dreamers have in the United States, and to prevent Trump from implementing conservative approaches to immigration. It is going to be up to Democrats to prioritize, and be willing to give up certain aspects of their policies in order to further their most important goals.

One of the first things Democrats should be willing to sacrifice is the visa lottery. This system randomizes the visa application process, and increases the chances that applicants from ethnic groups that are less represented in the US will get in. However, Trump wants to move to a merit-based system, in which applicants are evaluated for the contribution they will make to the economy, among other important points. Although this system could contribute to discrimination of immigrants, keeping the current level of immigration and protecting the Dreamers already here is preferable.

Democrats should also prioritize the different options for how Dreamers will stay in the US. The most liberal proposal has similar protections to those under DACA, where immigrants are expected to work or be in school, but are not necessarily deported if they are not. The conservative proposals either immediately take away the legal status of young immigrants, or keep them here on a conditional stay, in which they must spend five years continually employed or in school or face deportation. This would probably allow Trump to implement his plans for deporting thousands of immigrants, making it essential that Democrats fight for some leniency, such as one proposal requiring that they stay employed or in school 75 percent of the time.

Funding for increased border security and ICE shouldn’t be something Democrats should give up without a fight. ICE has devastated hard-working families by deporting innocent immigrants, who are only guilty of seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Democrats should be able to bend, but not break, on this funding. It is important that they do not allow extreme vetting or give ICE agents powers more prolific than the ones they have now.

Finally, Democrats must decide whether to provide funding for the wall. Trump has flip-flopped on whether or not this is a requirement for his signature on a Dreamer protection bill, but it is safe to assume that his latest comment is the most accurate: he will not sign without funding for his barrier. So, Democrats must take a risk. Chances are that the wall will be delayed or blocked in court by lawsuits from landowners and advocacy groups. Also, the number of approvals required for its construction will take a long time. The risk Democrats must take is to give Trump what he wants. Give him funding for the wall, and then fight as hard as possible to win seats in 2018 and the Oval Office in 2020. Then, Democrats can implement their own policies and block the wall. For now, and hopefully always, Democrats must be willing to compromise with Republicans to create laws that represent the opinions of the country as a whole.