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DACA Shows Us the Problem with Moralizing Public Policy

By Dale L. Wilcox

As the ever-elegant wordsmith and political essayist Jonathan Swift once said: “you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.” Swift’s maxim springs to mind whenever I come across anti-borders types; a cohort that relies almost solely on moral rather than policy-based arguments when making its case. Expect them out in full, sloganeering force when the Supreme Court decides the fate of former President Obama’s DACA program in just a few weeks’ time.

My organization has been investigating DACA since its 2012 inception as well as filing legal briefs in the string of court challenges that have followed since. As we argue in our current brief before the Court, Obama circumvented both constitutional and administrative law when he unilaterally decreed that the Homeland Security department could simply stop enforcing congressional immigration law whenever and to whomever it pleased.

But not only is DACA unlawful, it’s also simply terrible policy from a rule of law-perspective. A.V. Dicey, the 19th century English jurist and originator of the phrase “rule of law,” stated throughout his writings on the subject that a nation’s laws had to have certainty, consistency and equality in application, lest they get trampled by those willing to abuse them for selfish gain. This is precisely what amnesties like DACA do.

In 1986, when Congress passed a law amnestying around 3 million illegal aliens, it sent a big green light to would-be illegal border-crossers that American generosity was ripe for exploiting. A couple years before the bill passed, then-State Secretary George Schultz had warned that amnesty would only induce more illegal immigration. He was exactly right. In just a few years after Congress implemented the amnesty, the illegal-alien population had swelled right back up to pre-amnesty levels. And by 2000, after a few smaller amnesties were passed in the 1990s, the illegal-alien population had grown to 9 million. Today, some estimates put the number at over 20 million.

In other words, amnesty doesn’t “solve” the problem of illegal immigration. It only perpetuates it.


And as the average American knows, especially those who’ve had their social security number stolen by an illegal alien or who have to compete with them for low-skilled jobs and low-income housing, illegal immigration is not a victimless problem.

Further, the fallout from it doesn’t just affect receiving countries like the U.S. Years ago, when the major environmental groups actually spoke out against mass immigration and its effects on urban sprawl, etc., top Sierra Club official Nick Ervin wrote:

I firmly believe that we do neither our homeland nor our planet (including its human members) a favor by acting as a continuing sponge for immigrants from other lands. In doing so, we retard the impetus behind population and economic reforms in other nations.

Without mentioning it explicitly, Ervin is describing here the so-called “safety-valve” effect of porous borders. When places like America let places like Mexico (80 percent of DACA aliens) relieve their peoples’ pent-up frustrations by allowing them to simply up and leave, the pressure on corrupt leaders to make sorely needed reforms dissipates. This is what programs like DACA do.


DACA aliens would be ideal instruments of change back in their homelands. They are of prime age (between 18 to 40), have a few dollars in their pocket, and they’ve seen what a stable society looks like. It is little wonder then that Mexico’s leaders are pushing so hard for SCOTUS to declare DACA lawful.

Remember this, by the way, the next time you hear activists and pundits claim that DACA medical workers have been essential to America’s COVID recovery. Ignoring the counter-arguments for a moment and assuming this was true, who might need these workers more? The United States with a GDP per capita of $62,000? Or the nations of Central America (10 percent of recipients) where it’s $3,700? As Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki once noted, too often mass immigration acts like ‘policies of plunder.’

Moralizing the immigration issue eviscerates the type of hard, systemic thinking it so badly needs. Marxist professor and erstwhile darling of the far-left Slavoj Zizek has routinely blasted the naiveté of anti-borders advocates. As he wrote earlier this year, the position that “every individual has the right to move to a country of his/her choice, and that this country has a duty to provide him/her with a residence,” although “crowd-pleasing,” is much too abstract and “ignores the complex context of social totality.”

In other words, moralizing the problem will not solve it; just confuse and prolong it. Harvard demographer Michael Teitelbaum captured this complexity well when he said immigration is not a “right versus wrong” but a “right versus right” issue. That is, “the task is to assess costs and benefits for all parties concerned, and over the long run.”


For DACA aliens, their benefits include the relatively high wages they enjoy while staying here (U.S. average wages are 9 times that of Mexico) as well as the remittances they send back home. Then there is their appeal to “fairness”—an argument that seems to say, "we’ve broken your immigration, labor and social security laws for so long, it’d be unfair to start enforcing them now."

On the other side, you have the negative effects, which, it must be noted, too often hit the most vulnerable Americans hardest. Not only do they have to compete against illegal aliens for things like wages, housing and school placements, they endure the added insult of being called immoral by the media and political elite whenever they complain about it.


For the average American, how this all adds up is obvious. For those still unable “reason themselves into a position” on DACA, if they only focused their emotions on who, as Americans, they owed an ethical-political duty to, it would be just as obvious.


Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of illegal migration.


Also published at: Dale L. Wilcox, DACA Shows Us the Problem with Moralizing Public Policy, American Greatness, June 12, 2020.

IRLI is a supporting organization of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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