Attorney General Jeff Sessions apparently convinced President Trump he had no choice but to pull the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, using a phony deadline as the pretext. Stephen K. Bannon and the alt-right may think this was a terrific idea, but the polls say otherwise — as does Trump’s newfound interest in finding a fix to his own political malpractice.
According to a new Morning Consult/Politico poll, 65 percent of voters think that “passing a bill that grants young people who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children, often with their parents, protection from deportation” should be a top or at least important priority. A plurality (45 percent) think ending DACA was wrong.
Asked “When it comes to legislation regarding Dreamers, which of the following would you most like Congress to pass?” 54 percent say they want dreamers “to stay and become citizens if they meet certain requirements” while an additional 19 percent want to afford them legal residence. That includes 41 percent of Republicans who voted for Trump. Only 12 percent want to deport them. Repealing DACA looks like it’s even less popular than Trumpcare.
In addition, a plurality (45 percent) think a DACA fix should be a stand-alone bill while only a third think it should be part of a larger immigration package.
The DACA repeal therefore has done several things, none of them helpful to the anti-immigrant crowd. First, it has galvanized sympathy for dreamers to such an extent that a significant majority now want them to be citizens. Second, it has made Trump as anxious about passing a DACA fix as Democrats are. He’s so concerned, the White House already threw in the towel on tying it to funding for the wall. In all likelihood, DACA will be fixed and the wall will never be built. It’s a result Hillary Clinton might not have been able to obtain (certainly not with a GOP House and Senate). Third, Trump’s decision will force a good number of Republicans to cast votes for the Dream Act (or some variation), thereby emphasizing the split between the Bannonites and the rest of the GOP. This offers traditional Republicans an opportunity to rebuke the ethno-nationalist agenda (oddly, with Trump’s help) but puts anti-immigrant but pro-Trump lawmakers (e.g., Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) in a precarious position.
No one should consider a DACA fix to be a small or insignificant part of the immigration problem. About 1.9 million people were eligible for DACA — more than 17 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. About 788,000 successfully applied for DACA status, about 7 percent of the illegal immigrant population. Taking care of dreamers, without giving up much of anything, would be a huge win for the pro-immigrant community. Getting Americans to think of immigrants as assets, not burdens, and certainly not as a bunch of “murderers,” as Trump described them, would represent an important precursor to a humane, reasonable immigration solution that takes care of those already here, provides workable border and visa overstay-prevention and reform of our legal immigration system (not slashing of legal immigration, an immensely stupid and destructive proposal). It would be what the die-hard anti-immigrant groups used to call “amnesty.” And it will be largely due to the handiwork of Jeff Sessions.