Why Republicans Should Want to Expand Protection from Deportation
In the first few weeks of his Presidency, Donald Trump signed a number of executive orders cracking down on immigration, both legal and illegal. For all the human cost of those orders, he thankfully did not sign any action rescinding President Obama’s executive action protecting Dreamers, undocumented young people who grew up in the United States. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Trump was waiting for a Congress to send him a long-term solution.
Republicans have joined together with Democrats to introduce one such solution: the bipartisan BRIDGE Act in the House and Senate. If passed, it would provide provisional protection to Dreamers. It’s an important—but narrow—piece of legislation that should continue to see bipartisan support.
Republicans could best advance conservative causes by extending that protection to other groups as well. There are compelling conservative reasons to expand the offer for provisional protected status to the parents of Dreamers, veterans, long-term law-abiding immigrants, and community leaders.
The economic case practically explains itself. Undocumented status makes it dangerous for people to work. Granting more people protected status and work authorization means they can participate in the formal economy and provide for themselves, subject to the regulations and taxes associated with legal employment.
And, the best economic evidence shows the American labor market can easily accommodate more labor without decreasing wages. Even more to the point, undocumented workers would see higher earnings after they get work authorization, meaning that any downward pressure on Americans’ wages that did exist will be lessened.
In addition to the economic benefits, expanding protection from deportation would promote Republican public policy goals by deterring lawbreaking and promoting the rule of law.
Conservatives are rightly concerned about law-breaking, and appropriately want to minimize it. Law-breaking among undocumented immigrants falls into two categories: (1) illegal presence in the United States and (2) committing crimes within the United States. Expanding protection from deportation would not encourage any more illegal immigration, and would reduce crime in the U.S.
First, expanded deportation protection would only be available to people who can document that they’ve been here for more than 10 years. Anyone who came within the last ten years or has yet to come would be ineligible. Expanding protections therefore does not affect incentives of those considering immigrating illegally, and so will not encourage illegal immigration.
Second, expanded deportation protection does not represent amnesty. Expanded deportation is conditional, meaning that applicants must satisfy stringent requirements, and may face future penalties associated with legal status down the road, including fines. It would only protect (temporarily) those eligible from a single, specific penalty—deportation.
As a temporary relief measure, it does not provide a path to citizenship or any of the other benefits that would encourage illegal immigration. Studies of the 1986 amnesty showed that it did not affect long-term patterns of illegal immigration. A program which falls far short of amnesty would also have no effect on future levels of illegal immigration.
Third, expanded protection would be complemented with strong and credible immigration enforcement under the Trump administration, which will undoubtedly deter new illegal immigrants. Whether or not Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) played even a small part in rumors that encouraged Central American children to try and seek refuge in the United States, a congressionally mandated program would leave no question as to who is eligible for protection.
Even now, the increase in unaccompanied minors arriving at the border has not changed net illegal immigration. We can expect that result would only improve with the Trump administration prioritizing stronger enforcement.
Expanded deportation protection does not incentivize new illegal immigration, but will it impact crime within the United States?
First, it’s important to note that even the hardline restrictionists at the Center for Immigration Studies admit there is not strong evidence that illegal immigrants commit crimes at a high rate anyway. The effect of expanded deportation would make that rate even lower.
For an undocumented immigrant in the United States, the deterrent against committing a crime is weak. If someone’s undocumented status is discovered, the ultimate penalty—deportation — applies regardless of whether the undocumented individual committed any crimes since entering the country.
If, on the other hand, we recognize a distinction between criminal aliens and undocumented immigrants who have clean criminal records, by denying the former eligibility for protection from deportation, a deterrent is established, resulting in less crime.
In addition, the work authorization that accompanies expanded protection means more undocumented immigrants can have jobs and will see growing incomes, also leading to reductions in crime. And, if immigration enforcement resources aren’t being wasted on people who haven’t committed crimes, that means more resources are dedicated toward going after criminals.
A policy which does not encourage illegal immigration and reduces crime among undocumented immigrants ought to be a no-brainer to conservatives.
PROMOTING THE RULE OF LAW
If helping bring millions of people out from the shadows is not sufficiently compelling, expanded protection also promotes the rule of law in a more surprising way.
Conservatives have long maintained opposition to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration (DACA and DAPA) because they see them as a naked power grab—an unconstitutional decision not to enforce the law.
If the rule of law was, in fact, violated, how can Republicans build it back up?
Simply rescinding the executive actions won’t work. Without any affirmative action from Congress, dismantling the executive actions demonstrates only that the new executive disagrees on the specific policy, not that the executive has no authority to make that policy in the first place.
Suppose instead that Trump revoked the executive actions and Republicans pass the BRIDGE Act—doubtlessly an improvement. It is sound policy for all of the reasons Republicans and Democrats alike cite. But it would not send a strong signal about the rule of law because it reinforces the idea that law by executive action is a step on the road to a congressional rubber stamp.
But Republicans have a third option to send a strong signal about the rule of law. They can expand protection to include other groups beyond those protected by Obama’s executive actions, clearly signaling that Congress determines policy, not the President. And it sends a message that a President can keep better policy from being enacted when he signals he is willing to act without Congress, since it undermines his credibility about enforcing the law in good faith.
Republicans have long made clear they are willing to consider legal status once they are assured that immigration laws will be enforced. What’s more, 60 percent of Trump supporters are in favor of legal status. Republican Senator Tom Cotton explained back in 2013 that the reasoning behind putting off legalization is that there was cause to “doubt that the government will finally enforce immigration laws.” But under unified Republican government, that doubt disappears.
Expanding provisional protection from deportation is a far cry from legalization, but it is the best conservative option until that bipartisan goal can be accomplished.