Department of Homeland Security Chief John Kelly stated in a closed-door meeting about immigration policy with House Democrats last month:
The least of my worries right now [is] anyone who falls in the general category of [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)].
Even though Trump originally promised to repeal DACA on day one of his presidency, he has yet to do so and the Department Homeland Security would be wise to focus its attention elsewhere, as Kelly inferred in his recent statement.
Conversations about repealing DACA distract from real concerns about the safety of Americans and the benefits of immigration, and also ignore fundamental causes of illegal immigration.
Immigration Benefits the Country
DACA is an executive order from President Obama which temporarily stayed the deportation of undocumented immigrants brought unwittingly to the United States by their parents as children.
Among several other requirements, individuals applying to DACA must be enrolled in school, graduated from high school, enlisted in the military, undergo a background check and go through other extensive screening processes to determine if they present a public safety risk or if they qualify to remain in the United States.
As even this list of abbreviated requirements indicates, the DACA screening process works to ensure that individuals who are an unacceptable risk do not qualify to remain in the United States. In fact, DACA goes even further than just mitigating risks, it specifically looks for the most productive people – those who are certainly a net benefit to the United States.
A recent study by several immigration experts finds that DACA participants are almost twice as likely as the average population to start a business. These businesses are as simple as online craft stores, like Etsy, or as complex as tax preparation services and technology startups.
Claims are often made about the number of American jobs that are being lost to immigrants, but those claims fail to acknowledge the positive secondary effects that immigration can have.
More people actively working and living in a community means more people shopping at grocery stores and participating in the local economy, which means those enterprises expand as well. The supposed negative effects of immigration on employment and wages are overblown and largely debunked by academic researchers.
Bureaucracy and Illegal Immigration
The fundamental problem with policy solutions like repealing DACA lies in the fact that its repeal does nothing to solve the problems that cause illegal immigration. Those from common illegal entry countries are willing to pay large amounts to enter the United States because they expect to benefit from living in the US.
In 2012, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reported immigrants in Central America pay as much as $10,000 to be smuggled across the border. Their willingness to pay this much raises an interesting question; why aren’t people just entering legally if they can afford to pay for smuggling?
The answer is the burdensome bureaucracy potential immigrants face. As Rachel Wilson, an immigration attorney, describes her work helping people immigrate:
I went into law school to fight the man, but I'm not fighting the man, I'm fighting a bureaucracy.
She noted, complying with the current rules can take over a decade as bureaucrats determine the “degree” of a relationship between family members and other requirements.
It seems people would come legally if they could, but with the turmoil from their home countries at their heels, they make the decision to jump over the border however they can, rather than wait for paper-pushers.
Is There a Solution?
Instead of pursuing piecemeal changes to immigration policy, President Trump would do well to work with the United States Congress to comprehensively reform the immigration process and make it easier for potential immigrants to navigate.
The screening process must balance security with simplicity so that immigrants are not deterred from entering legally, and thus pushed towards entering illegally. If you want to stop illegal immigration, it makes sense to streamline legal immigration.
President Trump and policy makers interested in dealing with the problems of our immigration system would be well advised to focus their attentions elsewhere and instead devote their energy to meaningful changes that will simplify the immigration process and ensure the United States remains safe.