What Should Be Done with Those Granted DACA Amnesty?

By David North, September 14, 2012

While the preferred end-story for the administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty program should be its termination and an end of deferred action status for those granted it at the close of their two years, this probably will not happen.

Perhaps we should think about alternative end games. We know what the administration wants: It would grant full green card status to all the DACA beneficiaries and it would continue all the current admissions policies.

One interesting proposal, made by CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, is that in exchange for green card status for these beneficiaries, the diversity visa program would be ended along with several of the family preference categories, particularly the one for siblings of citizens, and, consequently, all the nieces and nephews.

In this way there would be a trade between a one-off amnesty for the DACA types in exchange for a fundamental change in our admissions policies reaching, one hopes, deep into the future. The DACAs are here now and the diversity and family-migration beneficiaries are outside the nation, an interesting dynamic. We could call the former DACAs "permanent legal workers".

Such a grand bargain also would have the utility of simplicity, rarely a hallmark of our immigration policies.

My admittedly complicating suggestion is that such a bargain be offered, but with a major caveat — the DACAs would receive life-time legal status, and a life-time right to work here, but they would not get the right to start the chain migration that goes with green cards, nor would they get citizen status. (This seems to be what Sen. Marco Rubio had in mind for legislation he was reportedly preparing, though it was short-circuited by the president's DACA decree.)

My worry, of course, is that DACA, like the IRCA legalization before it, would open up an endless expansion of chain migration as the DACAs moved into green card, and then citizenship status, and began using the family preference systems to bring still more (largely low-income, lightly-educated) aliens into the United States. Over time there could be millions of them.

So I think that restrictionists should examine all the alternatives available other than full green card status and thus the opening to citizenship for the DACA grantees.

To help that process along, I want to make the point that there are literally millions of aliens in this country who currently have the right to live here legally, and the right to work, without any rights, at all, to bring relatives with them on a permanent basis. Why shouldn't that limited set of rights be granted to the DACAs, who are, after all, lawbreakers (though the illegal entry took place when they were under 16)? To that end, I offer the following table:

The Hierarchy of Alien/Citizenship Statuses in the United States
Legal Status of Individual May Work Legally? Chain Migration Considerations
1. Citizen (both naturalized and U.S.-born) Yes Full set of family preferences
2. Permanent Resident Alien (PRA) or Green Card status Yes Partial set of family preferences
3. Temporary legal status leading to PRA status later, such as IRCA’s temporary resident alien status, conditional residence for spouses and investors; refugee, asylee, U & R visas; etc. Yes None until PRA is granted, with some possibilities within the asylee and refugee categories to cause admissions of relative into those categories
4. Long-term legal status by law for certain Pacific Islanders Yes Does not matter; all citizens of these three small island nations (FSM, RMI, Palau) have the same status
5. Long-term legal status by practice, such as: TPS, E-1 & E-2 visas, Deferred Action, suspension and withholding of removal, etc. Yes No chain migration
6. Temporary legal status, such as many nonimmigrant classes including F-1, G & H visas, J, M, O, P, etc. Yes, but often restricted and always temporary No chain migration
7. Temporary legal status, such as tourists, border card holders, some nonimmigrant classes (F-2, H-4), etc. No No chain migration
8. Deportable and deported Aliens No No chain migration
Note: this is a summary of the situation and many (often small) categories, not specifically listed, also fit into this framework. Characterizations of the classes is by the author.
Source: Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, DC

The table shows a hierarchy of aliens and citizens, ranging from Class 8 (the deportables and the deported) all the way up to Class 1, full citizenship. Along the way I have identified four broad classes (3, 4, 5, and 6) full of aliens who are here legally, and who can work, but who cannot bring in family members as permanent residents. Why should the DACA applicants, all illegal aliens now at the very bottom of the ladder, skip over all those other aliens, and be placed in Class 2, that of green card holders?

Why not create a new class of aliens, people who can live here legally for the rest of their lives, people who can travel into and out of the country, people who can work legally, but who are barred from moving into green card status (unless they can otherwise qualify)? They would be able to get driver's licenses and secure benefits from the Social Security and workers' compensation systems, but not from the welfare systems, such as Medicaid, TANF, and food stamps.

Would not Permanent Legal Worker status be a major boon for the DACAs? Would not that give them much more than they have now, if not perhaps the entire package that they want?

Meanwhile, there is another suggestion for a not-a-full-path-to-citizenship end game for the DACAs. It comes from Janice Arnold-Jones, the Republican candidate for what is currently a Democratic congressional seat in New Mexico's First District. It was reported in the Albuquerque Journal.

I find her suggestion both interesting (in that it is creative) and totally without precedent or hope of enactment — as it would involve amending the Constitution. She wants the DACAs to become citizens without a vote. The news article did not indicate that she was worried about (or even aware) of chain migration. It did say she "opposes other path-to-citizenship proposals that would require immigrants to pay large fines, fees, or accumulated back taxes because immigrants often don't have the financial resources to make up-front payments."

Her proposal sounds as if it is not quite ready for prime time.

The candidate, however, has a real shot at a seat in the House. She has the Republican nomination in a district covering the northern part of the state that has sent both members of her party and Democrats to the House, and both Anglos (she is one such) and Hispanics, and both men and at least one woman (former Rep. Heather Wilson, another Republican.) Arnold-Jones currently holds a seat in the state legislature.

The district is unusual in that it has a large number of Hispanic voters, but relatively few illegals; Sante Fe, after all, was settled by the Spanish Empire a full decade before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts. It is in the northern counties of New Mexico, around Santa Fe, not the ones near the border with Old Mexico, where the Hispanic population in the state is concentrated.