A Grain Of Saul

A Grain Of Saul: Jeff Sessions' Speech Perpetuated 7 DACA Myths. Here's The Truth.

Are DACA recipients violent criminals? Do they hurt the economy?

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

When attorney general Jeff Sessions announced that the White House would be rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he justified the decision with long-debunked immigration myths.

Announcing that DACA could be ending in six months is disturbing enough on its own. The program has helped close to 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought here as children get jobs, enroll in college, start their own businesses, stay out of trouble and build a life in the U.S. But to know that the attorney general is selling this decision based on myths about DACA recipients is simply wrong. If our country is going to make decisions, they should be based in data, facts and common sense. 

Some of the claims Sessions made in his speech defy the readily available data we have while others were offered without any supporting evidence at all. Then there were the claims that wouldn't pass a simple sniff test for anyone who took the time to think about them.

A pro-DACA rally outside of Trump Tower in New York City earlier this week. Isaac Saul / A Plus.
A pro-DACA rally outside of Trump Tower in New York City earlier this week. Isaac Saul / A Plus.

Early in his speech, Sessions described the DACA program as unilateral executive amnesty and said it prompted a surge of unaccompanied minors to the southern border, two inaccurate claims.

"The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences," Sessions said. 

The idea that DACA is a form of amnesty is demonstrably false, no matter how many times far right media outlets like Breitbart repeat it. Amnesty is a form of legal protection equivalent to a pardon that grants a group of people innocence. President Barack Obama's executive order, by definition, is not amnesty because it could be — and now has been —undone by his successor. Amnesty is a group pardon that cannot be reversed.

DACA also had little or nothing to do with a "surge of unaccompanied minors" on the southern border. First of all, DACA only applied to children who "have continuously resided in the United States since June 15th, 2007," meaning new arrivals wouldn't even qualify for DACA status. Of course, it is true that there was a 77 percent jump in unaccompanied minors in 2014 arriving at the border. But they were there because they were fleeing a rising wave of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and finding safety thanks to an anti-trafficking law that called for the transfer of children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. That law was signed by President George W. Bush.

US. Attorney General Jeff Sessions responds to questions from one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during his testimony in front of the Committee. Washington DC, June 13, 2017.
US. Attorney General Jeff Sessions responds to questions from one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during his testimony in front of the Committee. Washington DC, June 13, 2017. Shutterstock / mark reinstein

"It [DACA] also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens."

Conveniently, Sessions made this statement without providing a single citation to a study or group of research to support his claim. Chances are that's because there aren't any. As the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) noted, "If immigrants really 'took' jobs away from large numbers of native-born workers, especially during economic hard times, then one would expect to find high unemployment rates in those parts of the country with large numbers of immigrants — especially immigrants who have come to the United States recently and, presumably, are more willing to work for lower wages and under worse conditions than either long-term immigrants or native-born workers. Yet there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level."

Simply put: IPC found no relationship, even at the county level, between the unemployment rate and presence of immigrants who arrived later than 1999.

A pro-DACA rally outside of Trump Tower in New York City earlier this week. Isaac Saul / A Plus.
A pro-DACA rally outside of Trump Tower in New York City earlier this week. Isaac Saul / A Plus.

"Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering," Sessions said. "Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism."

There's a lot to unpack in this quote, so let's pull it apart bit by bit.

Does eliminating DACA saves lives? Actually, enforcing these laws would send those previously unaccompanied minors back to their countries that they fled, in many cases, because of political violence.  The chances of a DACA recipient being harmed are probably far higher in a country they don't know that they ran away from because of violence than in the United States. 

Does eliminating DACA protect communities? Enforcing America's dated and draconian laws against undocumented immigrants does not protect communities or Americans — that's why police chiefs in almost every major city, where most undocumented immigrants reside, support sanctuary cities. Using their local resources to enforce these immigration laws, they say, would increase crime, reduce their ability to investigate crime, and fray relationships between police and a diverse group of community members. Just 848 of the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients had their status revoked or terminated due to crime in 2016. By comparison, the violent crime rate in the United States was about 372 per 100,000 people in 2015, or three and half times the total crime rate of DACA recipients.

A group of "Dreamers" inspect the Resolute Desk alongside President Obama in 2015. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.
A group of "Dreamers" inspect the Resolute Desk alongside President Obama in 2015. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Does eliminating DACA protect taxpayers? This line from Sessions' speech seems to implicitly endorse a long-held myth: that DACA recipients aren't taxpayers. DACA recipients are taxpayers, and they contribute bigly — to steal a word from the president — to U.S. tax revenue.  The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that undocumented youth "enrolled in or eligible for DACA pay roughly $2 billion each year in state and local taxes." Further, they found that ending DACA would decrease state and local revenue by $800 million a year. In other words: ending DACA doesn't hurt taxpayers, it gives the ones who are leftover a greater burden.

Does eliminating DACA prevent human suffering? Again, the rescinding of DACA means the potential deportation of close to a million people brought here as children back to a country they do not know. Sending "DREAMers" home means separating families and destroying the lives hundreds of thousands of young adults built for themselves here. 97 percent of DACA recipients are now enrolled in school or employed. Close to 1,000 serve in the military. Others are business owners, doctors, teachers, farmers and so forth. How would deporting these people prevent suffering?

There were some DACA myths that Sessions left out of his speech, of course. He didn't suggest  — like many in the right-wing media have — that DACA recipients are eligible to vote or to receive benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, Section 8 housing or the Affordable Care Act (all of which they are ineligible for). 

Sessions could have cleared up some of these misleading statements at the press conference, but he refused to take questions when his speech was over.

The DACA debate isn't over, though. President Trump has since signaled on Twitter that he hopes Congress will codify DACA into law, a confusing if not completely confounding statement to make after approving the end of Obama's executive order. Over the next six months, Congress will be pressured to draft legislation or past the DREAM Act in order to protect these DACA recipients, and it's on us — the American public — to insist that the forthcoming public debate is rooted in facts, data, and common sense. 

If we can do that, the solution will be obvious: DACA recipients deserve to stay. 

For more, follow Isaac Saul on Twitter

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