Just one week after the Trump administration announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy shielding some young undocumented immigrants from deportation, Democrats may have figured out a way to save it. After dining with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement suggesting DACA may not be dead after all. Trump agreed to “support enshrining DACA protections into law, and [to] encourage the House and Senate to act,” they wrote, in exchange for a “new border security package.” The details of the agreement are still murky — it’s really just an agreement to eventually come to an agreement — but proposals include “new technology, drones, air support, [and] sensor equipment” along the southern border. Democrats have made it clear they won’t give Trump his wall in exchange for DACA, but Pelosi and Schumer may have just given him something better.
There’s already 653 miles of fencing along the nearly 2,000-mile-long border, which took approximately three years to build. In February, Reuters obtained an internal Department of Homeland Security report which estimated that the wall could cost as much as $21.6 billion and would take more than three years to build, with construction occurring in several phases. Two-thirds of the land along the border is privately- or state-owned, meaning it has to be acquired through eminent domain, which Bloomberg suggested could lead to “challenges in court,” further slowing down construction.
Both Trump and the Democrats know that getting the wall up will be a slow, expensive process. Beefing up border security with drones and sensors is both easy and relatively cheap, and could ultimately be more effective at surveilling those who attempt to cross. As of 2014, drones were already being used to monitor almost half of the southern border, and Reuters reported last year that Border Patrol officers want more drones and sensors along the border — not a wall. If this deal goes through, Democrats will be giving Trump’s immigration officers exactly what they want and presenting it as a victory, not only for themselves, but for immigrants. (It’s worth noting that border crossings have plummeted since Trump took office, but were also decreasing under Obama.)
Even if border patrol officers want increased technology, research suggests it won’t make the border safer. A Princeton study published in the American Journal of Sociology in April determined that greater enforcement at the border actually causes undocumented migrants, some of whom would prefer to seasonally work in the U.S. before returning to Latin America, to stay in the U.S. indefinitely. “Greater enforcement raised the costs of undocumented border crossing, which required undocumented migrants to stay longer in the U.S. to make a trip profitable,” Princeton professor Douglas Massey said in a statement.
Other researchers have found that increased enforcement has made crossing more dangerous as well, causing migrants to depend on smugglers instead of crossing on their own. “As enforcement techniques have gotten more sophisticated and stronger, it has actually strengthened the criminal networks that do operate along the border,” Tanya Golash-Boza, sociology professor at the University of California-Merced told The Outline. Golash-Boza said both the wall and more high-tech solutions are “95 percent spectacle,” security theater that lets politicians seem tough on immigration, helps some Americans feel safer, but doesn’t ultimately deter immigrants or make the border less dangerous.
Regardless, top Democrats are reportedly “outright giddy” over the agreement. “If this deal comes together, then this is the resistance working. This is the equivalent of beating back Obamacare repeal and replace,” former Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon told The Daily Beast. “This is the victory of DACA kids who have mobilized this past week. You can’t be so single-mindedly against Trump that you’re not willing to declare victory when you defeat Trump.”
“As enforcement techniques have gotten more sophisticated and stronger, it has actually strengthened the criminal networks that do operate along the border.”
This doesn’t align with what DACA recipients themselves are calling for. Tania Unzueta, one of the undocumented activists who pushed for the DREAM Act in 2010, told Splinter that the DREAMer narrative — and the idea of sparing DACA recipients while deporting millions of other immigrants — is ultimately harmful. “Now more than ever, people are looking for the smallest excuse to target our community, and this narrative does more harm than good,” Uzueta said. Ju Hong, a South Korean undocumented immigrant who pushed for the DREAM Act, said something similar. “It makes some immigrants more deserving and others undeserving — and there’s a lot of dangers to that,” Hong told Splinter. In an NPR segment on Friday, several DACA recipients said they felt the deal was a way of using DACA as a bargaining chip to further militarize the border. Young immigrant activists have made it clear that their fight goes beyond saving DACA recipients from deportation, even if the Democratic Party hasn’t caught up to them yet.
There’s still a lot that needs to be decided about the tentative deal, including what “enshrining DACA into law” actually means. The White House has made contradictory statements on the matter. Deputy press secretary Lindsay Walter told reporters on Thursday that the Trump administration “will not be discussing amnesty,” then said that they would instead be discussing “a responsible path forward in immigration reform that could include legal citizenship over a period of time,” also known as amnesty. Less than an hour later, Trump said he is “not looking at citizenship.”
“We are not looking at amnesty. We are looking at allowing people to stay here,” Trump said.
It’s possible that saving DACA will mean just that: reinstating a policy that protects some young immigrants from deportation but never lets them obtain legal status, effectively leaving them in limbo. Less than a month ago, Pelosi said using DACA recipients as “bargaining chips” for Trump’s wall is “reprehensible.” Now she’s willing to give Trump a cheaper, more immediate solution. Even if Democrats manage to save DACA, there’s little they can do about the rest of Trump’s immigration policies.
If the deal does go through, Trump gets to seem like he’s softening his stance on immigration even as he calls for more deportations, fewer refugees, and a 50 percent reduction in green cards. Democrats get to look like they’re willing to reach across the aisle and work with the Trump administration on behalf of the #resistance, even as deportations continue increasing. Everyone wins. Everyone, that is, except undocumented immigrants.