This week, John Boehner and the House Republican leadership unveiled a bill that would devote $659 million to addressing the humanitarian crisis caused by tens of thousands of Central American minors pouring over our southern border. The bill satisfies a number of conservative demands: It’s far less money than the administration asked for, most of that money is spent on border security, it’s paid for by cutting funds for FEMA, it calls for the deployment of the National Guard, and it makes changes to the 2008 human trafficking law that is being blamed for slowing the deportation process.
One thing the bill doesn’t do, however, is cut off funding for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which he established through executive action in June 2012. Some hard-liners in Congress like Ted Cruz are insisting that any legislation on the border crisis include such a provision, because in their view, the entire problem can be blamed on DACA, which eased deportations for immigrants brought into the country as kids. Cruz, in characteristic fashion, is actually whipping votes in the House to build conservative opposition to Boehner’s bill. The bill is scheduled to hit the House floor today and its prospects for passage are uncertain, largely because of the threat of a Cruz-inspired conservative revolt.
The obvious question raised by all this is whether DACA can actually be blamed for the crisis. I mean, if Ted Cruz and the hard-right flank of the House GOP are ready to scuttle what could be Congress’ last chance to address the border crisis before they all skip town for a month, they’d better have a damn good reason, right?
Well, they don’t. There’s little cause to believe DACA has anything to do with the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, and there’s zero reason to believe it is the primary driver of the mass migration. Conservatives are attempting to capitalize on the chaos and end an immigration program they dislike.
To get an idea of how weak the conservative case for blaming the border crisis on DACA is, here’s Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham’s OP-Ed from yesterday trying to explain how it’s all Obama’s fault:
“You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” In the case of the ongoing crisis along America’s southwest border, that someone is President Obama. When the president used his pen to sign the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, memorandum on June 15, 2012, he effectively rolled out the welcome mat to those abroad seeking to immigrate illegally.
The numbers are undeniable. From 2011 to 2013, the number of minors crossing the border illegally increased threefold, from roughly 8,000 to 24,668. Officials initially estimated that number would soar to 60,000 this year, though it is now expected to be close to 90,000.
Oof, that lede causes physical pain. Anyway, when Needham writes “the numbers are undeniable,” what he means is “the numbers are undeniable so long as you don’t really look at them too closely.” It is true that Obama created DACA on June 15, 2012. It’s also true that the number of minors crossing the border spiked between 2011 and 2013. What Needham carefully omits is precisely when that spike began: the autumn of 2011, several months before DACA was signed into existence. “Beginning in October 2011, the U.S. Government recorded a dramatic rise – commonly referred to in the United States as ‘the surge’ – in the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving to the United States from these same three countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras,” a recent report from the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees states.
There are other factors that are commonly cited as reasons for the surge in migration, like staggering poverty and horrific violence in Central America, but Needham argues that they don’t count because … well, just because:
Some have attempted to attribute the sudden wave of migration to factors other than the actions taken by the Obama administration. Most frequently cited is the stunning violence plaguing Central America, but according to United Nations data the region’s dramatic increase in violence began in 2007.
The other frequently cited cause is a little-known anti-trafficking law that gave additional protections to certain immigrant minors, but that law passed in 2008. While those two factors may intensify the crisis, there was no greater pull factor than the president’s executive decree forbidding immigration officials from enforcing the law.
What’s Needham’s evidence for this? A Border Patrol memo that said a group of 230 migrants interviewed in May said their main reason for coming was “to take advantage of the ‘new’ U.S. law that grants a free pass or permit.” The same U.N. report cited above interviewed 400 migrants, and only records one instance of a child mentioning “the possibility of benefiting from immigration reform in the U.S.” A June 2014 Congressional Research Service report states that “unaccompanied child migrants’ motives for migrating to the United States are often multifaceted and difficult to measure analytically,” though “surveys in 2013 indicate that almost half of all unaccompanied children experienced serious harm or threats by organized criminal groups or state actors, and one-fifth experienced domestic abuse.” As for the role of immigration policies, CRS says “it remains unclear if, and how, specific immigration policies have motivated children to migrate to the United States. Misperceptions about U.S. policies may be a contributing factor.”
And that’s just it – what it comes down to ultimately is that Needham, Cruz and other conservatives are trying to conflate misinformation about DACA with DACA itself. They’re arguing that the program should be scrapped because people in Central America may have misconceptions about it. “Rather than creating the clarity necessary to dispel the myths and rumors, the Obama administration is now considering expanding its so-called deferred action program to millions more,” Needham writes.
When the program was signed into the law, the parameters were fairly clear: It applies only to immigrants brought into the country as kids before June 2007. There was, however, a substantial portion of the conservative political and media world that did their level best to scream as loudly as possible that the White House had just declared amnesty for young undocumented immigrants. So maybe the White House isn’t to blame for the lack of clarity.
Regardless, the administration has already ramped up its efforts to publicize the limits of its immigration policies to address this concern. But the Obama administration can no more stop a smuggler or coyote from lying about its immigration policies than it can Ted Cruz or the Heritage Foundation.