After announcing earlier this month a phased termination of the “Dreamers” program (aka DACA), President Trump appears to be moving quickly to strike a deal with Congress to put in place legislation to implement this quasi-amnesty program that President Obama launched by executive order in 2012.
Obama’s order protected about 700,000 illegal immigrants who arrived as minors between 1991 and 2007 — brought by their parents, as the story line goes.
Since 2007, another wave of foreign minors has been entering the country, this time unaccompanied by parents. Since 2012, they’ve come in large numbers — they now number more than 250,000. It’s hard not to see moral hazard.
Dreamers have an appealing case for special dispensation. They are American more than foreign, having lived all but their earliest years here rather than in their place of birth. Their illegal immigration is viewed as their parents’ doing, not theirs.
Obviously, the same cannot be said of the new wave of “unaccompanied alien children,” as they have been termed by Homeland Security. They have come under their own steam, primarily from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras).
This suggests one feature of any Dreamer legislation, namely that the DACA cutoff date of 2007 be retained, that the new law not cover later arrivals, not be open-ended. Minors coming alone afterward are a distinctly different class.
Pro-immigration activists claim they have not been attracted by the prospect of protection under DACA or Dream legislation or some future iteration of same. More-skeptical observers might disagree.
Either way, these unaccompanied immigrants are here now. We must deal with them promptly. Otherwise, they too may live most of their lives here, becoming just as appealing tomorrow as Dreamers are today.
Legislation replacing DACA should also include provisions to deal with these newer arrivals and to halt this novel form of illegal immigration.
Three reforms would work wonders.
The first would be to revise the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which has exacerbated the problem. In order to prevent child trafficking, TVPRA requires that all minor immigrants arriving at our border from noncontiguous nations be given an immigration court hearing before they can be sent home.
In contrast, Mexican minors apprehended crossing the border illegally can be returned or removed to Mexico expeditiously, if not immediately. What’s fair for Mexicans should be fair for kids from the Northern Triangle, which should be designated contiguous territory under TVPRA. This would prevent Northern Triangle natives from exploiting TVPRA as a pretext to enter the country illegally.
The practical result of TVPRA at present is that many unaccompanied alien children never show up for their court hearings, which are almost always long delayed, given the overload in the immigration court system. They become de facto quasi-legal permanent residents.
So, secondly, Dreamer legislation should provide President Trump the resources to do more of what he is doing already, namely hiring more immigration court judges to reduce the backlog of 600,000 immigration cases, particularly those of these unaccompanied minors. Judges will sort out which of these immigrants genuinely qualify for TVPRA protection and legal permanent residency and those who do not.
Thirdly, with Congressional backing, President Trump should pressure Mexico to halt unaccompanied Northern Triangle minors from entering and traversing Mexico in order to enter the U.S. illegally and to accept back any who do make it to the U.S. border.
Mexican authorities can separate purely economic migrants, who should be repatriated, from genuine refugees and asylum-seekers. Mexico is better situated to repatriate economic migrants to its immediate southern neighbors than the U.S. more than a thousand miles away.
Many migrants are legitimately fleeing violence and human trafficking. The Northern triangle is notoriously violent. According to Insight Crime, which tracks organized crime in the Americas, El Salvador had a murder rate of 91 per 100,000 in 2016, followed by 59 per 100,000 in Honduras. By comparison, Mexico is safe — with a murder rate of only 19 per 100,000. Mexico can serve as safe haven for Northern Triangle refugees.
Hundreds of millions of people around the world would like to come to the U.S. Many live in poverty and in violent societies. We simply cannot admit them all.
Already, we admit more legal immigrants than any other nation on earth. Turning a blind eye to high levels of illegal immigration on top of that is irresponsible, especially when we have many American children living in poverty and violent conditions (Chicago’s murder rate was 28 per 100,000 in 2016). They deserve our first attention.
Amnesty programs, such as a legislative replacement of DACA, must not be open-ended and must include safeguards which prevent the recreation of virtually identical classes of amnesty-seekers in the future.
As appeared in Investor’s Business Daily on Sept. 18, 2017.
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Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.