More Fear-mongering About DACA

I wasn’t going to blog today, but something came to my attention that I couldn’t ignore. Yes, I’m becoming one of those “something’s wrong on the internet!” kind of people — I feel I must correct it. It’s a tough inclination to ignore.

The Heritage Foundation — an ultra-conservative “think tank” that pushes many of the regressive policies in our country — published this commentary a few days ago. It’s written by “Hans A. von Spakovsky”, who the foundation says “is an authority on a wide range of issues”. The piece is incorrectly called “Don’t Believe The Myths About The Dreamers”; a more accurate title would be: “Don’t Have Compassion On Brown Foreign People”.

Von Spakovsky is a staff member at the foundation, and a former member of the now-defunct Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (which arose after the president made unsubstantiated claims that 3 million to 5 million people had fraudulently voted in the 2016 election — for which no one ever found any evidence). He is Alabaman by birth, but his parents were not American — his German mother and Russian father were both refugees, and met each other at an American-run camp for “displaced persons” shortly after World War 2 (source). Notably, his biography on the foundation’s website does not mention his heritage.

As I read his commentary, I quickly noticed that English isn’t one of the “wide range of issues” that von Spakovsky is an “authority” on; he used “it’s” when he meant “its” and randomly capitalized words like “job” and “last” when they weren’t at the beginning of a sentence or part of a title.

Further, he tries to unpaint the picture that “the media” has painted of DACA recipients — brought here as children, fully “Americanized”, going to college, working, joining the military, etc. People who would be “lost” if returned to their countries of origin. He whines: “The media have done an outstanding job of creating a winsome stereotype of the nearly 700,000 beneficiaries of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” This strongly implies that the “stereotype” should be not “winsome”. That was the first line of his piece, so right away, my hackles were raised. Here we have a man who introduces his piece with his intention to stereotype child immigrants as unappealing (the opposite of winsome).

“To hear the media tell it, virtually all of these young people are in college — or already graduated from college. Those no longer pursuing their studies are serving nobly in the military, launching promising civilian careers, or otherwise earnestly chasing the American Dream.”

He doesn’t say which “media” of course, and doesn’t even specify news media, so he could be talking about memes or a song he heard once. In the actual news media, I’ve seen lots of facts about DACA, as well as many feature-story anecdotes designed to raise sympathy.

Brought Here As Children? The facts indeed show that “brought here as children” is true. DACA beneficiaries had to have arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 (source).

Fully Americanized? As for “fully Americanized”, it’s such a subjective term that no one can define it — and von Spakovsky doesn’t even try. But it’s a relatively safe assumption, given that the Dreamers ranged in age from zero to 16 when they arrived here, had to have been in the U.S. for at least five years before applying, and given that DACA itself is now more than five years old. (Dreamers are now 15 to 36 — source.)

Going To College? Von Spakovsky tries to counter the college claim with this: “only 49 percent have a high school education”. But it’s weird, because I’ve never seen “the media” claim Dreamers were all going to college. In fact, here’s the Chicago Tribune, pointing out what’s “actually required is that the person enroll in a high school course or an ‘alternative’, including online courses and English-as-a-second-language classes”. However, a huge survey of Dreamers showed that 45 percent of them are currently in school. Of that group, “72 percent are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher” and “36 percent of [all] respondents 25 years and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher” — which is higher than the native-born average.

Working? Von Spakovsky doesn’t counter the claim that DACA recipients are working. But just to clear the air: “91 percent of respondents are currently employed. Among respondents age 25 and older, employment jumps to 93 percent” (source). One in 20 of them have started their own businesses. “Among respondents 25 years and older, the [average and median annual earnings] figures are $41,621 and $37,595, respectively” (ibid).

In The Military? The foundation’s hit piece makes the startling claim that “only 900 are serving in the military”. Wait. That’s not startling at all, because it’s the exact same figure that “the media” have been reporting: here (Chicago Tribune), here (USA Today), here (CBS News), and so on. In other words, just over one in a 1,000 Dreamers are in the U.S. armed forces. This is called a straw man. Von Spakovsky is arguing against a point no one made. No one said “a whole bunch of them” are in the military; we said “some” of them are in the military.

(Also, the numbers are all over the place. Many sources use the 800,000 figure; von Spakovsky says 700,000 here, but later says 690,000. CNN says “more than 700,000”.)

So what’s von Spakovsky’s point? Why is he so insistent on sending these folks back to the countries they escaped as children?

The first reason he lists is: “Amnesty for people who enter the country illegally begets more people entering the country illegally… Amnesty is like a magnet for unlawful immigration.” Of course, he can’t prove this, but he tries, by citing the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which was followed by an increase in illegal immigration. There are several things are wrong with this: (1) that bill is credited with a decrease in crime, (2) it was a bipartisan law signed by Ronald Reagan — rather than an immigration policy created outside Congress, (3) nobody knows whether the law was responsible for an increase in illegal immigration. Further, that law didn’t have an age restriction. DACA is expressly limited to immigrants who arrived here as children.

His second reason is: “DACA or Dreamer amnesty would also almost certainly spark a surge in legal immigration as well.” Um, wait. I thought you conservatives were all in favor of LEGAL immigration. Remember? You keep telling us it’s not about race or color or culture or country of origin, but that what matters is the legality? You can’t move the goalposts now and say you’re against legal immigration too.

Von Spakovsky’s third reason: Oh wait. He doesn’t list one.

Scanning back up through the piece, though, it’s obvious what worries him. The “main goal” of “this characterization of Dreamers”, he says, “is to generate sympathy”. Ouch. Raises hand. Guilty. I do actually think we should raise sympathy for these 690,000 (or more) people. It also bothers him that people are bilingual: “Those who entered the country as teens or ‘tweens’ are certainly fluent in both the language and cultural norms of their home countries.” Oh no! Lock up your children extra tight tonight — there are people speaking something other than “American” living among us! This is pure racism right here. In case you weren’t convinced he’s really worried about that, he adds: “Indeed, the original DACA application form had a space for the name of the interpreter who helped the applicant complete the English language form.” What? You mean just like every other legal form, ever? And every job application I’ve ever filled out? He also worries about “the number of DACA beneficiaries who have had their eligibility revoked because of criminal convictions and gang affiliations”. It turns out to be a very small number (around 2,000). And if their eligibility was revoked, that means the system is working. He’s admitting that DACA actually does kick off the rolls anyone discovered to be a criminal.

So, despite being an “authority” on just about everything, this Heritage Foundation writer misses almost every point of basic humanity, and can’t admit to himself or others that DACA was a good program. He handily keeps quiet his own parents’ story of immigration (no word on whether they were legal or illegal, though we can assume they were white, which is A-okay with Republicans). He stokes fears about damn bilingual people and worries that even legal immigration will increase.

If you’re against illegal AND legal immigration, then we’re no longer talking about the rule of law; we’re talking about scary foreigners and their scary bomb languages and their scary non-Christian religions. Fear-mongering: what conservatives do best.

The DREAM Act, which had bipartisan origins, enjoys massive support from the citizenry, including a majority of Republicans, and needs to be passed as soon as possible. We can ignore hand-wringing from xenophobic offspring of white immigrants like van Spakovsky.

15 Comments
  1. Dana says:

    The argument that giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship will encourage more illegal immigration, is not an uncommon one. It was sited several times in this NYT piece, which looks at other immigrants (legally in the US), who oppose DACA: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/dreamers-opponents-daca-deal.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fus&action=click&contentCollection=us&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront

    The biggest bit of fear-mongering is this idea that all crime is caused by illegal immigrants or all illegal immigrants are criminals. Neither premise is supported by any facts. Anecdotally speaking, as a criminal defense attorney in a sanctuary city, I’d say that less than 2% of my clients are immigrants (both legal and illegal). And that number has been relatively consistent for the 20 years I’ve been practicing here. Even looking at “gang-related” crimes – over 20 years, I’ve only represented a total of 2 clients who possibly had ties to Central American gangs (and only one of those was here in this country without papers). Most gang-related arrests (in my practice) are of US citizens.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Unfortunately, I’m at my NYT limit for this month, so I can’t read that article… But yes, it’s an argument I’ve heard before. It makes *some* sense — if the knowledge of a new relaxed policy or amnesty spreads via the news and/or word of mouth into the countries where the illegal immigrants are coming from, it only makes sense that it would help sway someone’s decision. (I’m thinking of someone who’s on the fence and hasn’t yet decided to come here.)

      I only meant to point out the illogic of von Spakovsky’s argument. He made a claim and then backed it with something that doesn’t back his claim.

      “The biggest bit of fear-mongering is this idea that all crime is caused by illegal immigrants or all illegal immigrants are criminals.”

      Indeed. Yet as you say, there’s no evidence that either is true. To me, it sounds like any other bigoted claim: “blacks are lazy”, “blacks are prone to crime (or drug use)”, etc.

      I don’t know how much experience you’ve had with the border patrol, but here in Texas they operate hundreds of miles from the border, often setting up checkpoints on rural highways in west Texas. It’s amazing how white drivers get waved through while the rest have to show some papers that prove they belong here. :-(

      • Dana says:

        I don’t know how much experience you’ve had with the border patrol,

        None, recently, but I did grow up in SoCal, and went to college in San Diego. So I’ve had my shares of encounters with the Border Patrol. In fact, because my hair and skin were so dark, I was often stopped (by police and border patrol) because they assumed I was Mexican. That never happened to my “white” (paler) friends.

    • From the article: “In interviews, voters who oppose legalization said that they felt the government was being held hostage by sympathizers of the young immigrants.”

      I can tell someone is a bad person when they use “sympathy” as a slur against someone else. This comes from some barbaric holdover from times when humans survived by being cold-hearted bastards. For example, infanticide was once common across most human cultures; a variety of “practical” reasons led people to think it was okay. I imagine that when people began calling for it to stop, they were accused of being baby sympathizers.

      From my own experience, anti-immigrant voters will pretend they have sympathy: “I really do sympathize, but we’re a nation of laws” they’ll say, shrugging, forgetting that every law EVER was written by humans and can be unwritten by humans. “I realize their situation must be difficult, but what can we do? We must split up their families and deport them to the most dangerous cities we can think of.”

      Fuck that.

      • Wil C. Fry says:

        That’s a good point — that “sympathizer” is being used as a derogatory term, and that it’s very telling of the person who uses it that way. I remember when I was younger and still trapped in conservative (regressive) circles, that “bleeding-heart liberal” was often used as a derogatory slur. Now I look back in shame that I ever bought into it. Really? Caring a lot is a bad thing?

        (Note to self: check older blog entries for use of the phrase “bleeding-heart liberal”. It’s likely I used it at least once, since I was still calling myself independent/moderate up until a few years ago.)

      • Dana says:

        From my own experience, anti-immigrant voters will pretend they have sympathy: “I really do sympathize, but we’re a nation of laws” they’ll say, shrugging, forgetting that every law EVER was written by humans and can be unwritten by humans.

        Actually, what they’re forgetting, is that unless they are Native American, they too are immigrants. And most likely, many of their relatives are on these shores because of “chain” migration.

        Could you imagine if you received a lucrative job offer from a European country but they company told you that you had to leave your wife/husband and children behind? Anyone in that position would think that was an unacceptable restriction. Unless, of course, we’re talking about people with brown skin – then suddenly, it’s acceptable to think that they should leave their loved ones behind in war torn or impoverished Nations.

        I’ve been listening to Unsettled: A Story From The Global Refugee Crisis this week. It’s truly heartbreaking to hear Andre and Lisette’s story about immigration in the Trump era. (I guess I should include a trigger warning – the story is a tear jerker and will not leave you feeling terribly charitable towards Americans.)

        (Edited by Wil C. Fry to close the italics tag)

        • Dana says:

          (Sorry, I botched the HTML on the above post – I meant to include a closing ital command after the quoted portion from Anderson’s post but I don’t have a WordPress account, so I can’t edit it.)

        • “Actually, what they’re forgetting, is that unless they are Native American, they too are immigrants.”

          LOL, yes, they’re forgetting that too. I meant only to point out the silliness of saying “it’s a law” and shrugging as if it must always be so. Part of the whole point of activism is to change unjust laws.

          And I really dislike the term “chain migration”, which was once a neutral term in academia (source) but now is used primarily by white supremacists. I wish we could use “family reunification” or “family sponsorship immigration” or something…

        • Wil C. Fry says:

          What makes me the saddest about all this, is that someone can read every word we’ve written here, and read all the personal anecdotes, and still say: “Yeah, but we should still kick them out.”

  2. Dana says:

    The most amazing part of all this fear-mongering to me is that most of these immigrants (and Dreamers) are devout Christians. But the media and pundits on the Right have convinced the conservatives that immigrant=Muslim=terrorist.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      And if not Muslim, then probably CATHOLIC — oh noes! (As a former fundamentalist, I know very well that the extreme right-wing of Christianity is devoutly anti-Catholic.)

  3. Dana says:

    Germaine to this conversation: from today’s Politico, “The Myth Of Chain Migration”. The scariest take-away from that piece is that the Whitehouse (on it’s website) is officially putting forth this idea that allowing a single immigrant into the country will lead to his entire extended family coming to the U.S.

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