Last week’s stunning move by Congressmen Randy Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Peter Aguilar (D-AZ) to sneak into the FY18 Financial Services and General Government spending bill a provision allowing DACA-amnesty recipients to qualify for federal employment no doubt has even a lot of amnesty-supporters scratching their heads. Not only is most federal employment out of bounds even for legal immigrants, those joining public service are expected to clear a full background check, have a clean record, and swear an oath to the Constitution; all things illegal-alien beneficiaries of the former president’s unlawful DACA program clearly should have trouble with.
As for enforcement-advocates longing for just a semblance of immigration normalcy, that DACA’s still here at all, let alone being carved into law or, if the rumors are true, being used as a bargaining chip by the White House, is just one more in a long line of insults.
Awarding amnesty to those who refuse to abide by our already generous immigration laws unfortunately has a long history in this country. And, unsurprisingly, it’s only ever led to more law-breaking.
When the Truman Administration set up a commission to study the effects of Mexican immigration on US farm-wages, one area of mention in the panel’s final report was the numerous amnesties of illegal alien farmworkers that had been pushed through in the 1940’s by the Executive years previous at the behest of Big Agribusiness. Immigration agents testifying before the panel called the amnesties a definite ‘pull force’ for further illegal entries. Indeed, the ensuing decade would see the illegal alien population reach a then-unprecedented level (followed by a new level of repatriation drives, both forced and voluntary).
Likewise, when Congress implemented an amnesty in 1986 the illegal alien population skyrocketed which it did again following DACA itself with apprehensions of unaccompanied alien minors shooting up over ten-fold by 2014.
If past is prologue, therefore, making DACA permanent will only make the problem permanent as well.
Why the consequences of awarding bad behavior isn’t apparently more widely appreciated is no doubt complex, but, says Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom, its likely linked to too much empathy in politics. When empathy invades public policy, Bloom says, it acts like a “spotlight” that places our focus on individuals, not society as a whole, and “causes us to lose sight of larger tragedies.” In rendering us “innumerate and myopic”, he concludes, empathy can blind well-meaning people from seeing the full, broader effects of their actions.
This aligns well with Jonathan Haidt’s delineation between “systemizers” with “moralizers” in politics; the former being people who consider how variables are affected following a change in a system, the latter being those who emphasize the emotions of those immediately affected by that change. How expanding the labor pool through immigration affects wage- and unionization-rates might therefore be a consideration for a “systemizer”; how much better third-world migrants, illegal or not, are faring in their new home might be a consideration for a “moralizer.”
Systemizer-thinkers approach policy proposals more broadly, recognizing the knock-on effects for wider society, including those most affected. In the immigration-context, former Cornell labor economist Vernon Briggs points out the effects wrought on the black community, a group that’s always been disproportionately affected by mass immigration. The worsening situation for black, predominately male, laborers due to wage-competition from immigrants, Briggs says, passes onto their households, rippling through the entire social structure of black society. For instance, he points out, only half of black women between 25 and 44 are married (compared to white women), a development that’s no doubt at least partly due to the difficulty black men have at finding family wages in a perennially loose low- and semi-skilled labor market.
Other systemic effects might include immigration-induced stress on already stressed urban schools, or housing and social programs.
For ‘empathic moralizers’ then, what dominates isn’t empirical data or long-term considerations, but politics or emotion and manipulation. Take Obama and his DACA “dreamers.” Without a doubt, the former president’s PR-advisors knew exactly what they were doing when they singled out this portion of the illegal-alien population to kick-off the president’s clearly unpopular amnesty-drive. As one political consultant told NPR at the time DACA was implemented: “People can easily pass judgment on… those who came to the United States illegally… [i]t’s much harder to dismiss their children.” Similarly, when a 5-year old Hispanic girl was coached by an open-borders group to sell amnesty to the Pope during his visit to Los Angeles, it was called ‘tactically brilliant’ and a ‘public relations coup’—the little girl was later hired by Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration lobbying group for an ad campaign.
But do we really want ‘tactics’ and ‘PR coups’ when it comes to formulating public policy. Especially when built around using children.
Obama’s still-lingering DACA-amnesty presents us with a bracing choice: do we take a systemic, well thought-out approach to immigration policy, considering all its expansive effects? Or, do we continue down the road we’re on where politics-as-a-morality-play becomes the norm. We know what cynical politicians want. What do true leaders want?