Protesters hold up signs during a rally supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, outside of the White House in Washington, on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.
( Jose Luis Magana
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is out this week. I’m Bob Garfield.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered on a longstanding campaign promise, an achievement of such grave importance and personal significance -- that he let someone else announce it.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: The program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded.
BOB GARFIELD: That was Attorney General Jeff Sessions breaking the news about the generally popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, DACA, that for five years, has offered temporary protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants brought here as children. The onus now falls on Congress to reinstate the program's benefits in the next six months, lest some 800,000 “Dreamers” lose their work permits and are deported from the country they grew up in.
Slate writer and legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern has examined the administration's argument for killing DACA. Mark, welcome to the show.
MARK JOSEPH STERN: Thanks so much for having me on.
BOB GARFIELD: This was from Attorney General Sessions’ announcement on Tuesday.
ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS: The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of minors at the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.
BOB GARFIELD: Let’s start with the claim that DACA contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors across the southern border, not true?
MARK JOSEPH STERN: Not true at all, and we know this for a few reasons. The first is that there is a surge in unaccompanied minors coming to the southern border but this surge actually began in 2008, and DACA was introduced in the summer of 2012.
Now, there was an uptick in this surge more recently but that uptick occurred in 2011, a year and a half before DACA was announced. And we know that this surge is largely attributable to a sharp increase in gang violence in certain Central American countries, as well as a new willingness by drug cartels, especially those in Mexico, to target children. This really has nothing to do with DACA. And the second reason that we know that is because the policies guidelines required that individuals who apply have already been in the country when DACA was announced and implemented, so it simply wouldn't make any sense for parents in Central America, as Sessions implied, to send their unaccompanied children to this country in order to receive DACA because one glance at the guidelines would inform them that, in fact, their children aren't eligible.
BOB GARFIELD: Session alleges that the consequence of DACA has been the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans.
MARK JOSEPH STERN: He doesn't offer any evidence. Economists have failed to come up with any proof that immigrants, documented or undocumented, are taking jobs from Americans, like Sessions said. In fact, the data seems to suggest that Americans and immigrants are competing for different sets of jobs.
But it's also important to note, as The New York Times did on Wednesday, that a huge proportion of DACA beneficiaries have actually entered fields where we need more employees, specifically hundreds of thousands of new workers in health care and education over the next five to ten years, and we just don't have enough people competing for these jobs.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, so that covers how Sessions misrepresented the facts. But there is also the nature of DACA, itself. He calls it “amnesty.”
MARK JOSEPH STERN: It does not give individuals lawful permanent resident status. It doesn't give them green cards. And it doesn't put them even on a path to citizenship. What DACA does is take a certain fairly narrow group of individuals, people who were brought to this country unlawfully by their parents when they were children, and formally defers deportation for them. All it does is say, the government’s not going to deport you unless it has a really good reason and, while you're here, you will have a work permit so you can enter the workforce and pay taxes.
BOB GARFIELD: What is being said in, let’s say, the right-wing media ecosystem, that is demonstrably untrue about DACA and its beneficiaries?
MARK JOSEPH STERN: First, the line that Sessions used, which is that it's caused a humanitarian crisis in the form of unaccompanied minors at the southern border, which we know not to be true, and second, that DACA beneficiaries do not deserve to be in this country because they're criminals. It turns out [LAUGHS] that the number of DACA beneficiaries who have committed crimes is extraordinarily low, much, much lower than with the general population, something like .3 percent. And a related lie that I've heard a lot on, like, Breitbart or that kind of corner of the internet is that DACA beneficiaries are criminals, by definition, because they're living in this country without documentation. That is also not true. Unlawful presence in America, by itself, is not a criminal offense. It is a civil offense. So you can be fined for living in this country without documentation, but it doesn't make you a criminal. It's a false talking point.
BOB GARFIELD: You know, apart from the darkest corners of right-wing media, have these notions been accepted in reporting about immigration?
MARK JOSEPH STERN: You certainly see it in reporting from Fox News and you also sometimes see it come in to articles that try to frame this as a both-sides issue. Just to give an example, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a well-known nativist, recently claimed on television that a lot of DACA beneficiaries are, quote, “gangbangers.” NBC published a report that said something like, where some see dreamers, others see gangbangers. It’s not true. They certainly don't join gangs at an equal rate to citizens. They do not, by and large, have a gang problem. But when these figures of authority throw out lines like this, they tend to get picked up and deployed as sort of the “other perspective” to this issue. I think that's unfortunate because this is one case where you have one perspective that's fact based and one that's not.
BOB GARFIELD: What about the left? Is there progressive rhetoric that also doesn't pass the sniff test?
MARK JOSEPH STERN: Well, you know, I've noticed that a lot of progressives are defending DACA in terms that seem to depict the program as perhaps more wonderful [LAUGHS] than it really is. DACA was a stopgap measure. It was always meant to be temporary. And it is far from perfect. And so, I think it would be unwise for progressives to frame DACA as anything more than a temporary measure, better than nothing, to be sure, but certainly not the end goal.
What we really want is a law that provides these people with actual legal status and puts them on a path to citizenship. DACA doesn’t do that, and that’s one of its many shortcomings.
BOB GARFIELD: Thank, you Mark.
MARK JOSEPH STERN: Of course.
BOB GARFIELD: Mark Joseph Stern is a legal analyst and a writer for Slate.