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De-Emotionalizing DACA - February 2018

posted Feb 23, 2018, 6:31 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Seamus Brennan '20

If the last six months have indicated anything about the current state of our political discourse, it is that it’s nearly impossible to engage in bipartisan political dialogue without an overload of virtue signaling from members of the left. The left’s dogmatic standard in civic conversation is based upon the notion that feelings trump fact, instinct trumps reason, and emotional impulse trumps logic. This has left a noticeable taint on the way we carry out conversations on public policy. The consequences of such a standard are damaging and destructive. Of course, emotion plays a central role in the human experience and it’s only natural that it has some bearing on one’s political leanings and tendencies, but when it comes to public policy, one must rely on the objective and impartial rather than the infinite and indeterminate. Although emotional bias as a legitimate basis for diplomatic discussion has taken over seemingly every component of our political discourse, it is most prominent in discussions concerning DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Despite the policy’s blatant executive overreach and unconstitutionality, the emotion-infused policy proposals and overly euphemistic language of the DACA debate are ultimately detrimental to the integrity of political discussion on both micro and macro levels in the United States.

In 2011, one year prior to former president Barack Obama’s reelection, he rightfully acknowledged on his campaign trail the antidemocratic and unconstitutional ramifications that an executive order like DACA would create: “Sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, they wish I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself. But that’s not how democracy works.” 2011 Obama was correct: surely everyone who has passed a seventh grade social studies class knows that the legislative branch makes laws while the executive branch merely enforces them—to suggest otherwise runs contrary to the sociopolitical and constitutional foundations of the United States government, and the former president was right to clarify the issue in the honest and transparent way he did.

Come 2012 reelection season, however, in an effort to frame members of the Republican Party as cold-hearted and compassionless (a rather masterful political move), President Obama decided that the integrity of the executive branch ought to take a backseat to his own partisan needs (the Republicans had won the House majority in 2012 as well, so he had to rely upon an executive order to push his agenda through, which stands in stark contrast to the current administration’s lawmaking tactics). His unilateral political maneuvering won, and before anyone knew it, DACA was instituted as a “temporary measure,” and any attempt to question the moral and constitutional foundations of the order was met with snide and pompous remarks from political opponents. What was once “not how democracy works” suddenly became “who we are as a people,” as Obama wrote when President Trump announced plans to end the program in September 2017. What was once considered executive overreach became known as “basic decency,” what was once illegal and unconstitutional became acceptable and encouraged, one who was once called an “illegal immigrant” was suddenly referred to as a “dreamer,” and what was once a desire to uphold the Constitution is now known as “racist” and “xenophobic.”

Of everything we have learned over the past several months of immigration policy debate, the most striking would be the power of words. Politics and persuasiveness go hand in hand, and it’s no coincidence terms like “dreamer,” “family reunification,” and “undocumented” have been brought to the forefront. The left’s approach to the immigration debate is one of overblown euphemisms and emotionally persuasive language—and to their credit—it has worked quite well. Even the rather partisan Holy Cross administration has given in to such emotionally permeated language (which in and of itself speaks volumes about the school’s political priorities given that the administration rarely, if ever, focuses its attention to critical Catholic issues like abortion and the rise of the anti-Catholic cultural influences, while it does not hesitate to comment on immigration and refugee concerns), with members of the administration saying on multiple occasions that they are “troubled” by what was initially a temporary instance of executive exploitation being repealed.

Surely, it is difficult to blame these so-called “dreamers” (illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children) for the wrongdoings of their parents, and even the most far-right politicians and pundits don’t have any real desire to deport hundreds of thousands of innocent and hardworking migrants for something that was no fault of their own. Unfortunately, though, that’s not the point. No matter how much we may sympathize for these individuals, facts are facts: the executive order allowing them to remain in the United States is glaringly undemocratic. Compassion does not hold a candle to constitutionalism, regardless of any political or emotional stakes.

In more recent weeks, President Trump has held several bipartisan meetings on the future of DACA, and he has made it clear on multiple occasions – most notably in his first State of the Union address—that he is willing to compromise with Democrats on DACA and other pressing immigration issues so that both parties are satisfied. More specifically, the President has proposed his “four pillars” plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for approximately 1.8 million “dreamers,” $25 billion for border security measures including the construction of a wall, an end to chain migration, and an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. Of course, this proposed plan is quite generous and more than reasonable despite its neglect for the Obama administration’s unconstitutionality—as President Trump himself indicated, it “covers almost three times more people than the [Obama] administration. Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States over a 12-year period.” To no surprise, most Democrats are not budging: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested that “the plan is a campaign to make America white again” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer claimed that Trump was using his plan “as a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish-list by anti-immigration hardliners." This rationale, of course, is ludicrous. As political pundit Ben Shapiro said, “to suggest that allowing in millions of illegal immigrants and millions more legal immigrants is somehow a reflection of underlying racism is pure demagoguery.” The Democrats are, of course, politically posturing to their far-left base, and their inability to even consider a compromise as generous and balanced as President Trump’s sheds light on where their highest priorities truly lie.

As unavoidable as emotional influence often is when it comes to major public policy issues and as challenging as it can be to resist such influence, if we truly want a shot at preserving the moral and constitutional integrity of our country, it is time to set emotion aside. Likewise, and more importantly, real debate cannot exist in an environment in which those with opposing viewpoints are shut down as “racist” and “bigoted.” When emotion takes the forefront in our public policy debates, it is easy to resort to name-calling, moral patronization, and virtue signaling, but what good do such antics do for the country? Passion and emotion are important, but they have their time and place, and politics is not one of them. The future of the country depends upon our willingness to sacrifice feelings for fact and sentiment for common sense and the rule of law. That journey starts here and now.