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The potential repeal of Obama’s executive action, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), has put Republicans in Congress in a very powerful position. Not only will the repeal affect millions of undocumented people living in the US, but it may also shape American politics in a radical way. With Democrats following the party consensus that immigration is positive, they support keeping DACA. This means, if DACA goes, blame would entirely fall on Republicans. This moment could end up defining the future of conservatism.
Some people believe that either way the debate goes in Congress, the GOP will be damaged. That is real possibility, but it doesn’t seem like Donald Trump cares––he’s never been a team player. If DACA stays in place, Trump could at least place blame on Congress. But if DACA is repealed, this could end up unifying Democrats who, despite having fights between their progressive wing and the establishment, still could unify in 2018 and 2020 to fight for immigration reform.
Republicans are faced with two options: option A, in which Republicans keep DACA and attract some moderates and independents, could also lead to a grassroots revolt against the incumbents trying to retain their seats. Some people like to mention that House Speaker Paul Ryan easily defeated his populist challenger Paul Nehlen. However, let’s keep in mind that Eric Cantor was House Majority Leader when he was defeated by Dave Brat––an unknown economics professor who made immigration the central issue of the campaign.
It’s possible that incumbents could be challenged by outsiders if they become unpopular in their districts, due to differing positions on immigration. They would ride a populist wave and could gain more notoriety in the media than they would have in a previous election cycle. In swing districts, this challenge could play well for Democrats who could compete against an incumbent’s damage by a nasty primary, or populists could be painted as extremists for their support for deportations of children. In this case, Republicans could at least still make the case to minorities that they care about them––and compete for their votes.
With option B, in which Republicans repeal DACA, would please their most restrictionist and populist base. This might win elections in the short term, but would soon lead to a backlash. Deporting millions of kids and teenagers would look inhumane to voters, and the image of America as a safe haven for immigrants––and a land of opportunity––would decline around the world. Although immigration hardliners are trying to push Trump to support a massive deportation of DACA recipients, polls shows that a majority of Americans including Republicans and Trump supporters oppose deporting Dreamers. More importantly, many of the immigrants affected by this possible law change don’t even speak the language of their home countries and consider themselves more a part of America than the places they were born.
Democrats would then use this as evidence that Republicans are racists––as they often do, but this time, their argument would be more compelling. The DACA repeal would especially affect Latinos. When people mention that demographics is destiny, an idea popular with Democrats, conservatives tend to point that Texas despite its large Hispanic population is still a Republican state. But if the Hispanics who are legal citizens feel that this law is based on prejudice against their entire ethnicity, this could change and complicate the GOP’s path forward. What would happen, for example, if Republicans lost a state like Texas? The Republican congressman for Texas Will Hurd has stood up to Trump, even saying that the Texas GOP should look more like average Texans who are ethnically diverse. The testimony of Hurd is proof that some bad moves could result in the end of Texas’s time as a red state.
Let’s look at a DACA repeal from an alleged conservative ideology. Conservatives generally argue that their problem is not with immigration, but with illegal immigration. However, their compromise bill, the RAISE ACT, would lower the number of legal immigrants showing that they have more problems with immigrants than their legal status. Keep in mind that many adult Dreamers have kids who are American citizens. Accordingly, Republican arguments about family values would look weak since a DACA repeal would pull families apart. The cost to employers is estimated to be around $6.3 billion, so the so-called fiscal conservatives should have a hard time supporting this policy.
Is there a conservative case for restricting immigration? Not everyone who disagrees with amnesty is racist. In fact, some people rightly argue that America would cease to be the place it is today if immigration continues at its current rate. However, this is the entirety of American history. Immigrants have changed the country in the past, so why wouldn’t we expect that to happen in the future? If conservatives choose a complete repeal of DACA, they would be embracing the idea that ethnicity is related to culture, but there is still time for them to choose the idea that liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness is not only a promise for those who are born in the US, but also for those who decide to become Americans.