Deadline-less DACA just the latest stage of a never-ending story

Democrats breathed a sigh of relief on Monday after the Supreme Court made it clear that DACA would continue for the foreseeable future with or without legislation. Their activist allies shouldn’t be as sanguine. Without a deadline, it looks like action on DACA won’t come for months now, NBC noted earlier today:

The Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at this point has given Congress a reprieve on an issue that has tied up Washington for months.

After the decision was announced Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated that there was less urgency to address the program, known as DACA. …

Giving the courts time to finish hearing the case and any subsequent appeals could push back any legislative deadline beyond the November midterm elections.

But it doesn’t mean that the sometimes bitter fight on immigration, which has contributed to a government shutdown this year, is going away.

Actually, it does and it doesn’t. It’s already largely disappeared from the headlines, except for a protest yesterday involving Catholic priests and nuns. (One acquaintance of mine, Fr. Thomas Reese of the Religion News Service, got himself arrested as he’d earlier promised.) In part that’s because of the gun-control debate, but that’s another example of the same dynamic. Both sides have invested themselves in entrenched positions rather than effective solutions.

So in one sense, the debate on DACA has gone away with the deadline for action removed, or at least indefinitely postponed. Never mind that the program is now locked out to new applicants; Democrats don’t have much incentive to end the argument, and Republicans don’t need to act to prevent being blamed for the consequences of failure. It’s both gone and ever-present, only becoming acute when either side needs to boost its base.

In my column for The Week, I point out that an effective solution is already on the table, and that a compromise would benefit everyone. This, of course, means it won’t happen until a deadline reappears, especially if all Congress can muster is a down payment on the border wall in exchange for DACA:

That gives Trump almost nothing in hand while coughing up all the leverage he has for bargaining up front. Besides, as Trump rightly argues, Congress authorized the building of the border wall 12 years ago with a significant number of Democratic votes, due at least in part to criticisms from the bipartisan 9/11 Commission over the lack of security on both borders. Waiting another 10 years to fund a wall that Congress authorized makes little sense, either pragmatically or politically. Without the full funding in place up front, Congress would be asking Trump to approve DACA on credit when they have a long history of not paying the bill.

Furthermore, a statutory form of DACA that envisions new applicants for the foreseeable future sets up an incentive for illegal entries by parents who understandably want better lives for their children. Most such parents work through the legal immigration system to achieve that, and most Americans welcome them. However, DACA applies specifically to illegal immigrants; deferred action on prosecutions are hardly needed for legal immigrants. Creating that incentive without securing the border will eventually make the DACA issue a permanent fixture in American politics rather than providing a comprehensive resolution of an unfortunate set of circumstances from earlier failures to address immigration policy and border security.

The best compromise would be to settle for three pillars rather than four or two. Regularize the DACA program in statute with a path to citizenship as Trump has proposed, in exchange for full and immediate funding for the border wall ($25 billion) and an end to so-called chain migration specifically for those within the DACA program. The visa lottery system can wait for broader immigration reform. That would satisfy the constituents for all sides while actually providing solutions rather than more opportunities for failure.

How long will it take before Congress and the White House come up with a workable and effective compromise? That’s anyone’s guess … but a deadline would sure come in handy.

To put this in perspective, the $25 billion ask is less than 10% of the additional amount of money Congress added to spending over the next 18 months in order to pass a budget. Jeff Flake just bumped up Congress’ proposed FY2019 contribution to a little over $7 billion, with the rest of it pledged in the following ten years. It’s nonsensical after twelve years of inaction. But it sure makes a lot of sense if the desired end result isn’t an effective solution, but instead an effective means of political fundraising and demonization.