Legislation requires bargaining, and bargaining requires bargaining chips, which are evaluated, offered, withdrawn and exchanged until consensus is achieved.
Give me more rights to offshore drilling, and I’ll support your position on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act re-authorization. Give me more money for border security, and I’ll vote for higher auto gas mileage standards. And so on.
But it’s worth remembering that all bargaining chips aren’t identical. Some are theoretical or take effect only far in the future. But others have immediate and life-changing consequences for real people.
DACA falls into the latter category. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects almost 800,000 residents of our country who were brought here as children, who were raised as Americans and who would be just as confounded as you or I would be if we were suddenly deported to a foreign country whose language we did not speak.
Some Democrats argue for a “clean” DACA bill, one that deals only with the immediate futures of these young Dreamers. Alas, our national politics often prevents us from the simple act of just doing the right thing. And thus DACA became central to the failure to pass a spending bill that would keep the government operating.
Of course, not everyone agrees that legalizing the Dreamers is in the best interests of our country, but consider two good reasons for doing so: compassion and national interest.
First, compassion: Six or seven years ago a quiet young woman in one of my college writing classes finally one day spoke up to express sympathy for illegal aliens. When someone asked her why she was interested in them, she said, “Well, I am one.”
Her parents brought her across the border from Mexico when she was a young girl. She quickly learned English, and she helped her parents and siblings learn it, as well. She thrived in public school, made friends, joined clubs and played soccer for her high school. After graduation, she took a job working the night desk at a hotel and enrolled in college.
For most of her life she has lived and felt like an American. In some respects, she’s a more conscientious citizen than many of us. She always drives very carefully, for example. A minor traffic stop could lead to a life-destroying deportation.
To send this young woman back to Mexico would be cruel. Un-American, really.
But if compassion isn’t enough, consider national interest: This woman’s family didn’t swim across the Rio Grande in the dark of night, and a big beautiful wall wouldn’t have kept them out. They presented themselves at the border and asked for a two-week visa. The border agents were rude, she said, but they gave her family permission to stay for six months.
Why? Because her parents went right to work, her father mowing lawns and cleaning swimming pools and her mother as a hotel maid. Their admittance to this country was a tacit recognition of the mutually beneficial — albeit illegal — exchange of labor and capital that has occurred across our southern border for decades. In some respects this young woman is a victim of that arrangement.
The importance of this labor to our economy can be expressed in a number of ways, but the Center for American Progress says that ending DACA would cause a drop in the GDP of $460 billion and cut contributions to Social Security and Medicare by $25 billion over a decade.
But DACA is about much more than just labor. The kinds of people who struggle with obstacles in order to reach our shores often do much more than mow lawns.
David Oshinsky’s “Polio: An American Story,” which chronicles the eradication of that dreaded disease during the last century, notes that Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin were immediate descendants of uneducated Jewish immigrants from Poland, Russia and eastern Europe, some of the “shithole” countries of their day.
So it shouldn’t surprise us terribly if someday a Dreamer comes up with a cure for cancer; let’s not kick her out before she has a chance to do it.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.