Repealing DACA Isn’t Worth President Trump’s Time
The least of my worries right now [is] anyone who falls in the general category of [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)],” Department of Homeland Security Chief John Kelly said recently in a closed-door meeting about immigration policy with House Democrats. Even though Trump originally promised to repeal DACA on day one, he has yet to do so and Homeland Security should focus elsewhere. Conversations about repealing DACA distract from real concerns about the safety of Americans, the benefits of immigration, and ignores fundamental causes of illegal immigration.
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 or graduated from high school, or be enlisted in the military, undergo a background check, and go through other extensive screenings to determine if they are a public safety risk to 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 looks for the most productive people – those who are certainly a net benefit to the United States.
Claims are often made about the number of jobs that are being lost to immigrants, but those claims fail to acknowledge the positive secondary effects that immigration can have. More people who are actively working and living in a community means more people shopping at grocery stores and other businesses, 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.
The fundamental problem with policy solutions like repealing DACA lies in the fact that it’s 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.
Instead of pursuing piecemeal changes to immigration policy, President Trump would do well to work with the US Congress to comprehensively reform the immigration process to 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. If you want to stop illegal immigration, it makes sense to streamline legal immigration.
President Trump and policy makers that are interested in dealing with the problems of our immigration system would do well not to focus on DACA and instead devote their energy to meaningful changes that will simplify the immigration process and ensure the United States remains safe.
Ryan M. Yonk Ph.D. is assistant research professor at Utah State University. Josh T. Smith is a graduate student in economics at Utah State University and works as a Policy Analyst at Strata.
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