Republicans and Democrats struck a budget deal that President Trump approves of, and just like that the U.S. government is back in business. The deal exchanged a vote to ensure beneficiaries of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) don’t get deported—a program Trump unilaterally suspended about five months ago—with reinstating funding for CHIP—a program that guarantees healthcare to children in need, which the GOP quietly also ended about five months ago.
The Democrats wanted to fund both, but the GOP was the Joker in The Dark Knight, holding both hostage and offering a binary, zero-sum choice: Either delay a vote on DACA or needy kids don’t get healthcare. Trump summed up this fallacy in a pithy tweet:
In a moment we’ll debunk myths about DACA recipients (also called “Dreamers”). But first, to state the obvious, Trump is misleading us. The government can fund both programs. There isn’t one pool of money reserved solely for DACA and CHIP.
The GOP created a false choice, a simple and sinister argument that appealed to their simple and sinister base. They blamed Democrats for killing CHIP, even though the Republicans loaded the initial CHIP deal this fall with a poison pill about abortion coverage that they knew was a non-starter for Democrats. No, at its heart this argument is the same that the GOP has been making, successfully, since Democrats elected to the presidency a black man with an Arabic name: Democrats secretly don’t like America, i.e., they don’t like “real Americans,” i.e., white people.
I’m a Democrat and—hold on to your butts—I like American white people, and I also want kids in need to have healthcare. But I also want to offer opportunity to undocumented young people whose parents brought them to America when they were too young to have any say in the matter.
I’m not alone: something like 90% of Americans want DACA recipients to stay in the US. The MAJORITY of Trump supporters approve. Hell, even the violently anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio said a couple weeks ago that he’d support DACA if Trump did. The President also feels this way, but he suspended the program because his aides told him that’s what his base wanted. But we—and by “we” I mean literally no one—still have no idea where the President stands on this issue. Neither, apparently, does the president.
Trump then tried to strike a bipartisan deal with Democrat leaders Schumer and Pelosi, but his racist base quickly turned their back. He got dragged back to his original position, which he didn’t actually want in the first place.
What a great negotiator.
But seriously: Ninety percent of Americans. What the hell is the issue here?
It’s a fig leaf for racism, is what.
Anyway, it’s still for some reason unclear whether the GOP will uphold its commitment to hold a vote on DACA before February 8, or whether that promise, like so many others, was made in bad faith. After all, it’s an election year, and unlike other years the far-right batshitters are voting as a bloc. Republicans can’t afford to alienate them and split off their votes, especially when facing a surge of support for Democrats. They’ll likely try to prevaricate some more—the program ends officially in March—so expect some shit-ass arguments about the DREAM act to come your way in about a week.
Now let’s get ahead of these myths.
In 2001 members of Congress introduced legislation known as the DREAM Act, which offered a path to citizenship for young people whose undocumented parents brought them here. A path to citizenship has bipartisan support, but complications—how; when; who; etc—have stood in the way, so that legislation got held up.
Then in 2012, President Obama unilaterally enacted DACA. And guess what? The program doesn’t even offer a path to citizenship. This unconscionable, unconstitutional, criminal-supporting program protects these kids from being deported. It also gives them the chance to contribute to America in the form of work permits. Benefits last two years, then you need to reapply.
It’s sort of halfway between being a citizen and not. DACA recipients don’t have legal status, but they’re here lawfully.
They’re not all brown people, you know. Dreamers come from all over. Also, not all came here illegally — many came here legally on a visa, but overstayed it. (The overwhelming majority of undocumented Americans fit in to this category.)
There are qualifications, too, e.g.: DACA recipients have to have been of a certain age when the program was enacted; they must have a squeaky clean record; and they must have a high school diploma (or GED), or be enrolled in high school. Plus it’s not automatic: They have to apply, and about one-third of DCA-eligible people haven’t. (Then you’ve got to keep reapplying.)
Yes, I’m starting off with a pro-DACA argument. In an overzealous effort to counter the hideous dehumanizing arguments about undocumented Americans, politicians (on both sides, remember) have overplayed their hand a little. Dreamers aren’t the best of Americans, though many of them are. They’re also not among the worst of Americans, though inevitably some of them are. The truth is an even better argument: They’re people, and as a group they’re not all that different from any other.
That is, they’re not any different except in terms of the opportunities they have at their disposal. This program levels the field a little bit, and gives young people who are Americans in every respect but their birthplace the opportunity to succeed in and contribute this country. Not all of them are Boy Scouts and valedictorians. (Some are, of course.)
I have some experience here. In my years as a college English instructor, a whole bunch of DACA kids came through my classes. They were by and large excellent young people: On the whole a bright, committed, and optimistic bunch. They all came here at ridiculously early ages, and none of them really remembered life in their “home” country.
Something else: The Dreamers had more faith in the American dream than the “real” Americans who were born here—in my classes overwhelmingly white and middle- and upper-class. Almost all of those Dreamers had a goal, and though, like with any human being, those goals might change, they always seemed to have one. I had to fail a ton of snotty white kids who wanted a country—and a state; and a school; and an English teacher—to give them more stuff, but I never, not once, had to fail a Dreamer.
What’s interesting to me is that a certain type of late-era social Darwinist Republican should also see this is likely a benefit of the program. Dreamers as people aren’t any different from you and me, but unlike U.S. citizens they have to meet and maintain certain qualifications to keep their status. You could say this defines them as a high-achieving and responsible group — and to be sure a lot of them are — but you might also observe that the program, through these requirements, has likely helped create such a group. They want to perform well, but also they have to perform well.
So, GOPers: Help make better Americans.
First, if this is your position I don’t want to have anything to do with you as a person, but politically I’ll say that the legal technicality here is not only gross, but gray.
Also, American opportunity isn’t some “Where Were You Born?” game show.
I’m not pulling back to say, “But what is an American, truly?” But the Constitution does have a thing or two to say about this. It grants all people certain rights through the 14th Amendment, which nowhere says “American citizens.” Among those rights is due process (hence the technicalities about defining “enemy combatants” in the war on terrorism). And though certain GOP state-level assface politicians have challenged DACA in court as unconstitutional, the courts haven’t struck it down. It’s still the law, and the fact the GOP is even entertaining the idea of a vote shows they in their hearts accept it as constitutional.
And so does Donald Trump.
I’ll add that one great thing about our laws is that they aren’t rigid. The people have the power to change them and make them more just. Our history evinces this. So the legal question, actually, is: “But what is an American, truly?”
Dreamers don’t get “free” stuff. They must pay a fee in exchange for the rights granted them under the program.
Here’s what they get:
A. Not deported.
B. The right to work.
C. A chance to get a driver’s license.
D. A chance to enroll in college.
Here’s what they don’t get:
A. A blanket right to go to college.
B. Any type of educational federal financial aid, and state-level aid only in some states.
Well, you don’t. As a group, Dreamers—and all undocumented immigrants—pay way more than they receive. They don’t qualify for social programs such as welfare or Obamacare or Medicaid or WIC. In fact, they’re subsidizing our legal lifestyle.
One person responded to me, when I pressed him on this point, that “illegals” do in fact receive benefits, because they get to use our nice roads and receive help from firemen when their houses burn down, etc.
Fireman: “Let me see your papers.”
Brown-skinned woman here legally: “They’re in the house fire, along with my parents.”
Fireman: “Your parents? Do they have their papers?”
Brown-skinned woman here legally: “…”
Fireman: “Okay, but just this once. And don’t tell Uncle Sam.”
No, Dreamers don’t get more than anyone else, they qualify for the same opportunities. Plus, unlike “real” Americans, they literally have to pay for them.
Similar myth: The Dreamer group also doesn’t get preferential treatment for college admissions. U.S. law guarantees everyone the right to a high school education, and there aren’t any laws that demand proof of citizenship to attend college.
That said, some states charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition, which can be prohibitively expensive. Also, some states prevent Dreamers from receiving any type of financial aid, federal or state. That said, there are plenty of scholarship funds that DACA recipients can apply for. Learn more here.
Now let’s try this thought experiment about who you think should be able to attend college:
You receive two college applications, and you only have one opening. One, you learn, is from a kid whose parents brought her to America when she was three months old. The other is from a kid who was born here, but had immigrant parents. The first kid has a 3.8 GPA and played varsity field hockey, etc etc. The other has a 1.3 GPA and won the “Shittiest Person” senior superlative. The first kid pays the government out of her own pocket for the chance to go to your college. The other kid’s parents are millionaires who pay 15% in taxes. If you agree we can distinguish between those two kids, then we can agree there’s an undefined line between who gets what kind of opportunities in America.
This is to say that everyone clamoring for “merit-based” immigration are basically also supporting DACA recipients, who, remember, are as a group high-achievers.
This is flat-out wrong. Undocumented Americans pay into the system wayyyy more than they cost. DACA recipients alone pay over $40 billion into the system, and get no social program benefits in return.
The GOP assembled Frankenstein’s monster, but Donald Trump was the jolt of electricity that brought it to life. Now the GOP has to contend with this stupid, violent thing. Will they feel they need to appease this base by ending DACA and threatening millions of young Americans with deportation? (Some deportations could begin as early as March; everyone else would be threatened at some point between March and 2020.)
How would deportation even work? Do you realize much more of your precious tax dollars would go towards deportations—which would face years of court challenges—than towards offering these people a chance to pay into the system you benefit from? And their tax dollars, like all tax dollars, are also critical for revenue. That is, they help offset what you pay and also contribute to limiting the deficit.
Would you say we could just use DACA taxes to pay for it all? Well, the cost is estimated at ten times the tax dollars that Dreamers pay in. Yeah: $400 billion to deport all these people.
It seems obvious this whole thing shouldn’t even be up for debate. Stop being racist. It costs nothing.