Democrats and left-wing groups are enlisting children in their latest effort to humiliate Republicans who oppose the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform, a tactic even Rachel Maddow thinks is “kinda dicey.”
“I have a dad, and he’s undocumented. What can I do so that he can stay with me?” a young girl asked Representative Scott DesJarlais (R., Tenn.) during a town-hall meeting last week. A video of the exchange was posted on the YouTube account of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to “challenging the status quo to achieve positive change” through “policy advocacy” and “impact litigation.”
Other Republican lawmakers have faced similar questions at town halls over the past several months, and, as William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection documents at length, the “Don’t Deport My Daddy” movement appears to be a highly organized campaign run by various left-wing groups and their Democratic allies.
As Jacobson also notes, it comes at a time when a number of House Republicans have indicated their willingness to support legislation — the so-called KIDS Act — to provide legal status and possibly a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants brought to this country as children. However, the KIDS Act stops short of the Gang of Eight’s proposal to legalize all 11 million or so illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom came here under their own steam.
The details of the KIDS Act are not yet known, since it hasn’t been introduced yet, but it will probably resemble the DREAM Act, which was first introduced in 2001 but has never managed to get enough votes in Congress. Some House Republicans would like to pass such a bill now in order to deflect criticism that the party wants to deport all illegal immigrants. And the KIDS Act might sound like a legitimate compromise to most Americans, whose support for the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive proposal is ambiguous at best. However, some on the left have already declared it a non-starter.
“The American people aren’t telling us, Tear apart families to fix the broken immigration system, nor are they saying, Lleave out a whole class of people and then create a second class of Americans to get the broken immigration system fixed,” said Representative Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.), echoing the language of the “Don’t Deport My Daddy” organizers.
“We remain committed to winning a fair path to citizenship for both Dreamers and their parents,” wrote Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D., Calif.), a co-author of the DREAM Act, in a recent op-ed. “We will not accept proposals that attempt to divide the immigration reform movement or condemn the parents of Dreamers to second-class status.”
Implied by these statements, and by the questions asked by politically precocious children at Republican town halls, is the notion that, under existing administration policy (which, it should be noted, is not consistent with existing immigration law), the illegal-immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and of DREAM-eligible youngsters live under constant threat of deportation. Actually, what these proponents of the DREAM Act are really implying is that the heartless monsters in the GOP favor this scenario, and therefore must be defeated.
But is this even a remotely accurate depiction of the status quo? The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the Obama administration has carried out a record number of deportations. However, the conspicuous lack of hysterical media coverage of immigrant families torn apart by deportation seems sufficient to call that record into question. (This MSNBC story, about an illegal immigrant from a “mixed-status” family facing deportation, is a rare example; however, it concludes with Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] granting the individual a one-year stay of removal.)
Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies has determined, after analyzing reams of unpublished official data on immigration-enforcement activity over the past five years, that the number of actual deportations has fallen 40 percent since June 2011. That is when the Obama administration issued the first of several “prosecutorial discretion” memos outlining significant changes to immigration enforcement policy, the aim being to give priority to the removal of illegal immigrants with criminal records while using that “discretion” to the benefit of parents of DREAM-eligible or legally residing children. On Monday, for example, ICE released 179 illegal immigrants apprehended in raids on an Arizona car-wash chain because “they did not meet the agency’s enforcement priorities,” according to a local news report.
In that June 2011 memo, ICE director John Morton listed 19 different “factors” for ICE agents, officers, and attorneys to consider when deciding whether or not to initiate removal proceedings against an illegal immigrant who has been apprehended, including “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships,” and “whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as a relative of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.”
That memo served as the basis for the administration’s controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which effectively bypassed Congress and enacted the DREAM Act by executive fiat. DACA allows young illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements to apply for temporary legal status and receive a work permit, all under the banner of “prosecutorial discretion.” A group of ICE agents is currently suing the administration in federal court, arguing that the DACA order forces them to break the law, and has led to the release of violent criminals who merely claim to be eligible for the program.
What about the parents of DACA recipients? The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website states that information about a DACA applicant’s family members or guardians “will not be referred to ICE for purposes of immigration enforcement.” In other words, even if a DACA recipient’s parents are known to be in the country illegally, the administration does not appear to consider them a priority for removal.
This is perhaps a concrete example of the “de facto amnesty” lamented by the Gang of Eight and its supporters. It’s worth noting that the Gang’s bill would give the secretary of Homeland Security considerable discretion over how to deal with illegal-immigrant family members of individuals awarded legal status. The Homeland Security secretary would be able to “waive a ground of inadmissibility or deportability if the Secretary determines that such removal or refusal of admission is against the public interest” or would result in “hardship” to the illegal immigrant’s legally residing relative — vague terms that could be used to justify an extremely lenient enforcement policy, which the administration has shown to be its preference.
So while the status quo may be a far cry from what the Gang of Eight and certain child-wielding activists would like, their implication that President Obama has maintained a ruthless, daddy-deporting enforcement policy is sheer fiction.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.