Sup­port and com­pli­ca­tions

DACA could sur­vive push by Trump to end pro­gram

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAN HOLTMEYER

The pro­gram al­low­ing thou­sands of Arkansas teens and young adults to stay in the coun­try may sur­vive de­spite the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to end it, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists and oth­ers said last week.

The fate of the Oba­maera pro­gram known as De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, of­ten called DACA, is hardly guar­an­teed. State Repub­li­cans — whose party long op­posed the pro­gram — and DACA sup­port­ers alike raised con­cerns about other changes to the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that could come with de­ferred ac­tion’s re­newal.

One such change could be stricter lim­its to im­mi­grant num­bers.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion ear­lier this month an­nounced the pro­gram would stop tak­ing ap­pli­ca­tions and let the two-year work per­mits for its re­cip­i­ents ex­pire. He said it would be up to Congress to fix the is­sue.

De­ferred ac­tion of­fers twoyear, re­new­able per­mits for more than 800,000 people who were brought into the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren, have no se­ri­ous crim­i­nal his­tory and are mostly aged in their teens to mid-30s.

Al­most 6,000 people in Arkansas were among the group as of March, with an­other 2,000 who were el­i­gi­ble but hadn’t ap­plied, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

Im­mi­gra­tion re­form has a trou­bled his­tory, with no ma­jor changes in two decades de­spite re­peated at­tempts by both ma­jor par­ties. Congress never ap­proved DACA, and Repub­li­cans in Arkansas and else­where called it an un­law­ful use of pres­i­den­tial au­thor­ity.

The push to keep the pro­gram through leg­is­la­tion has a cou­ple of ad­van­tages over other at­tempts, said Ja­nine Parry, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the 18-year-old Arkansas Poll at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville.

For one, it is a rel­a­tively fo­cused, nar­row pol­icy that af­fects a spe­cific group of people with whom mem­bers of the pub­lic can sym­pa­thize even if they op­pose il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, she said. Th­ese things can make build­ing sup­port for the pol­icy eas­ier.

Im­mi­gra­tion as a gen­eral is­sue, in con­trast, is huge and com­plex. Ef­forts to change it whole­sale of­ten fall vic­tim to the same kind of prob­lem that plagued Repub­li­can ef­forts to change health care this year, when years­long calls for re­peal­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act tripped over pol­icy de­tails and the real-life im­pact of chang­ing them, Parry said.

“We feel strongly about it, we know lit­tle about it, and the de­tails are com­pli­cated,” she said, which is why suc­cess­ful pol­icy changes can be frus­trat­ingly in­cre­men­tal. The de­fer­ral pro­gram, though, “is a small piece that stands a chance of be­ing ad­dressed even in this en­vi­ron­ment.”

Repub­li­can lead­ers have changed their ap­proach. Trump in his cam­paign, for in­stance, called for re­strict­ing im­mi­gra­tion and said DACA would end im­me­di­ately when he be­came pres­i­dent. Last week on Twit­ter, Trump asked, “Does any­body re­ally want to throw out good, ed­u­cated and ac­com­plished young people who have jobs, some serv­ing in the mil­i­tary?”

“I see some mean­ing­ful changes in the rhetoric on the Repub­li­can side, so that does mean some­thing,” said Xavier Me­d­ina Vi­dal, pro­fes­sor of Latino Stud­ies and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the univer­sity. He cred­ited the sym­pa­thetic nar­ra­tive of people who qual­ify un­der the pro­gram.

“It’s not new that the lives of very vul­ner­a­ble people are be­ing toyed with by, I think, both sides of the aisle,” Me­d­ina Vi­dal added, point­ing to other pro­pos­als that Congress could at­tach to a more per­ma­nent DACA pol­icy.

For ex­am­ple, Sen. Tom Cot­ton, R-Ark., has said the de­fer­ral pro­gram must come with lim­i­ta­tions to the rest of im­mi­gra­tion — like cur­tail­ing the abil­ity of im­mi­grants to spon­sor their fam­ily mem­bers for visas — to avoid giv­ing an in­cen­tive to en­ter the coun­try il­le­gally. Trump took the same stance on Twit­ter on Fri­day.

THE LO­CAL SCENE

The Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute doesn’t of­fer DACA es­ti­mates on the county level for Arkansas, but North­west Arkansas is home to around 40 per­cent of the state’s His­panic people, based on 2016 es­ti­mates by the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau. DACA re­cip­i­ents in­clude Kore­ans, Chi­nese and other na­tion­al­i­ties but are over­whelm­ingly from Mex­ico and other Span­ish-speak­ing coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the in­sti­tute.

Based on that pro­por­tion, be­tween 2,000 or 3,000 of the state’s 6,000 DACA re­cip­i­ents could be go­ing to school or work­ing in the Fayet­teville-Spring­dale-Rogers Metropoli­tan Sta­tis­ti­cal Area.

The Im­mi­grant Re­source Cen­ter in Spring­dale has seen a surge of people re­new­ing their per­mits be­fore the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Oct. 5 dead­line, said Erick Sanchez, the of­fice’s man­ager and a de­fer­ral re­cip­i­ent him­self.

Zessna Gar­cia-Rios, 28, said she plans to keep seek­ing a master’s de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the univer­sity and work­ing as a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant. She hopes to work with non­profit groups or po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns after­ward.

She came into the U.S. when she was 3 and re­newed her de­fer­ral per­mit in Au­gust, which means she should get about two years un­der the pro­gram even if Congress fails to act. The fam­ily pre­pared for de­por­ta­tion by mak­ing sure her younger sib­lings, who are cit­i­zens, can con­tact their ex­tended fam­ily back in Du­rango, Mex­ico.

“I have no re­grets, ab­so­lutely none. It changed my life com­pletely,” Gar­cia-Rios said of the pro­gram. “Now I get to put my ac­tivist cap back on.”

North­west Arkansas’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Congress, all Repub­li­cans, haven’t said they would op­pose DACA out­right but have given the pro­gram vary­ing de­grees of pub­lic sup­port.

Sara La­sure, spokes­woman for Sen. John Booz­man of Rogers, last week said only that the se­na­tor looks for­ward to Congress’s pur­suit of “a leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion to fix our bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.”

Rep. Steve Wo­mack of Rogers said in a state­ment ear­lier this month Congress can find a way to “cham­pion” law­ful im­mi­gra­tion and bring the “proper re­lief” to young im­mi­grants who know no other coun­try as home. But his spokes­woman didn’t an­swer ques­tions last week about what proper re­lief would be, cit­ing Wo­mack’s busy sched­ule.

Cot­ton has of­fered the strong­est sup­port, telling the Morn­ing Show ca­ble pro­gram ear­lier this month he’s “will­ing to work with Democrats to try to solve the prob­lem that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s un­law­ful ex­ec­u­tive or­der cre­ated.”

He’s called for pair­ing the pro­gram with the pro­posed RAISE Act, a bill he co-spon­sors. The pro­posal would even­tu­ally cut le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in half, al­low­ing around 500,000 new law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dents in­stead of around 1 mil­lion, his of­fice has said.

It would elim­i­nate adult cit­i­zens’ and le­gal res­i­dents’ abil­ity to spon­sor their adult par­ents, adult sib­lings and adult chil­dren who wish to join them. They still would be able to spon­sor spouses and mi­nor chil­dren. The bill would also put in place a merit-based sys­tem for award­ing visas based on im­mi­grants’ skills and ed­u­ca­tion, for ex­am­ple.

“Other­wise, we’re go­ing to be back here in three or four years talk­ing about what to do with the next 200,000 young people who were brought into this coun­try il­le­gally from 2018 to 2023,” Cot­ton said.

Some sup­port­ers of tighter im­mi­gra­tion have de­nounced any kind of deal ex­tend­ing DACA’s pro­tec­tions, see­ing it as cav­ing on the law and en­cour­ag­ing more il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings.

“The par­ents who made the dif­fi­cult choice to vi­o­late the law also bear con­sid­er­able fault for the le­gal peril their chil­dren are in to­day,” Ben­jamin Dierker, a le­gal in­tern at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, which sup­ports tight­en­ing im­mi­gra­tion over­all, wrote in an on­line post Sept. 10. “End­ing the in­cen­tive for more il­le­gal and dan­ger­ous im­mi­gra­tion is the only com­pas­sion­ate op­tion cur­rently on the ta­ble.”

Arkansans have taken a va­ri­ety of po­si­tions. Repub­li­cans like Gov. Asa Hutchin­son have said they sup­port a com­bi­na­tion of re­form and tighter bor­der se­cu­rity, some­thing Demo­cratic lead­ers in Congress have sig­naled they’d be will­ing to do. Sanchez and other lo­cal ac­tivists have called for a “clean” DACA bill with no add-ons.

“I hope they can work some­thing out that moves the ball down the field” to­ward more holis­tic re­form that makes the bor­der more se­cure and im­proves the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem over­all, said State Rep. Char­lie Collins, R-Fayet­teville. He said he sup­ported Cot­ton’s merit-based idea and thought the bill could be a start­ing point.

As for de­port­ing DACA re­cip­i­ents, “I cer­tainly would not think that’s a good idea.”

THE ECONOMIC CASE

Cot­ton has said his pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion in his bill is to pro­tect Amer­i­cans with a high school diploma or less. They of­ten com­pete di­rectly with im­mi­grants for low-skill jobs, which holds down their pay, he has said, though he ac­knowl­edged other economic forces are also to blame.

Cen­sus es­ti­mates sup­port his con­tention people with low lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion have seen their wages rise more slowly than oth­ers’ in re­cent years. People with at least a col­lege de­gree in North­west Arkansas saw their earn­ings go up by around 30 per­cent from 2005 to 2015 with­out tak­ing in­fla­tion into ac­count, com­pared to a bump of around 20 per­cent for those with a diploma or less.

Con­struc­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing

and other busi­nesses in Arkansas saved $147 mil­lion in wages a year with im­mi­grant la­bor, sup­port­ing an­other part of Cot­ton’s ar­gu­ment, a 2013 re­port by Lit­tle Rock’s Winthrop Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion found.

Sev­eral em­ploy­ers and economic ex­perts have said the big­ger pic­ture re­buts Cot­ton’s ar­gu­ment. Years of study have found many im­mi­grants are work­ing in agri­cul­tural or pro­duc­tion jobs cit­i­zens sim­ply won’t take, said Mervin Je­baraj, in­terim di­rec­tor of the univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Busi­ness and Economic Re­search. Even if that weren’t the case, im­mi­grants’ spend­ing, taxes and sav­ings feed into even more jobs than they hold, he said.

“There’s plenty of jobs go­ing around for people with the right qual­i­fi­ca­tions,” he said, point­ing to lo­cal con­struc­tion firms that say they can’t find enough skilled people to hire. Tak­ing away part of the la­bor force by cutting im­mi­gra­tion can back­fire, he added, by prompt­ing com­pa­nies to move to where work­ers are avail­able or to au­to­mate.

An anal­y­sis from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s Whar­ton School pro­jected Cot­ton’s bill would raise av­er­age wages just 0.23 per­cent in the first decade, enough to bump a $10 hourly wage to $10.02. The coun­try would also have a mil­lion fewer jobs be­cause of the smaller num­ber of work­ers, shop­pers and savers, the econ­o­mists there said.

Reports from Moody’s An­a­lyt­ics and the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice in the past few years have pro­jected sim­i­lar ef­fects.

Cot­ton’s of­fice has crit­i­cized the Penn­syl­va­nia re­port as in­com­plete and based on an untested economic model.

“Mass low-skill im­mi­gra­tion harms our econ­omy by low­er­ing work­ing Amer­i­cans’ wages and strain­ing federal and state wel­fare sys­tems,” spokes­woman Caro­line Rab­bitt wrote in an email. The RAISE Act would bring the coun­try a more skilled, more en­tre­pre­neur­ial group of im­mi­grants, she said.

Kim­berly Burham, spe­cial projects di­rec­tor for the Penn­syl­va­nia group, said the model they used was de­vel­oped over years and uses de­tailed Cen­sus and economic data. She noted the model pro­jected keep­ing the RAISE Act’s em­pha­sis on more skilled im­mi­grants while leav­ing the num­ber of im­mi­grants alone was pro­jected to slightly boost the econ­omy.

Je­baraj said work­force train­ing pro­grams that be­gin dur­ing school and ex­pose stu­dents to dif­fer­ent trades, such as weld­ing or health care, can also im­prove the for­tunes of people with diplo­mas. Sev­eral cham­bers of com­merce and schools in the area con­tinue to build and ex­pand such pro­grams.

“North­west Arkansas has been a leader in this,” Je­baraj said.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Cui­hua Chen, a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, per­forms a dance Satur­day while rep­re­sent­ing the Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion of North­west Arkansas dur­ing a lo­cal ob­ser­vance of Na­tional Wel­com­ing Week hosted by En­gageNWA and the North­west Arkansas Coun­cil’s Wel­comeNWA ini­tia­tive at Shiloh Square in down­town Spring­dale. The event fea­tured in­for­ma­tion about area agen­cies for people new to North­west Arkansas as well as per­for­mances by re­gional cul­tural groups.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Mar­got Le­mas­ter, di­rec­tor of the North­west Arkansas Coun­cil’s newly formed Wel­comeNWA ini­tia­tive, speaks Satur­day dur­ing a lo­cal ob­ser­vance of Na­tional Wel­com­ing Week hosted by En­gageNWA and Wel­comeNWA at Shiloh Square in down­town Spring­dale. The event fea­tured in­for­ma­tion about area agen­cies for people new to North­west Arkansas as well as per­for­mances by re­gional cul­tural groups.

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