At first I thought the Recognizing America’s Children Act (“RAC”) was a Democratic ploy to keep DACA alive in case President Trump and Jeff Sessions turned their attention to deferred action. Not so. H.R. 1468 is a GOP creation. It’s what a Republican amnesty bill looks like. The RAC Act reads a lot like DACA and has something in common: it talks about children but the people it benefits aren’t kids.
RAC Act amnesty for children? Not really.
The RAC Act was introduced on March 9, 2017 by Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo with 15 GOP cosponsors. You can read H.R. 1468 on Congress.gov, so no need to break it apart here. The bill gives a pass to illegal immigrants brought here as kids if they go to college, enter the military, or work. Five years of conditional status puts applicants on the road to permanent U.S. residence.
This is as close to Democratic foot-in-the-door permissiveness as the GOP can get. The bill raises a lot of the same questions as deferred action. There is vetting, of course. That means by agreeing to background checks applicants are risking turning in the undocumented parents who brought them here. That’s something they might want to think about. Republican sponsors should give it some thought, too. The bill provides that the information collected can’t be used against anyone. Therefore it could ban deportation proceedings against a parent if their identity or whereabouts is part of RAC Act information gathering.
Midterm immigration jitters
Republicans have good reason to be nervous about a midterm backlash against stepped up law enforcement. The recent story of an alleged deferred action “DREAMer” being sent back to Mexico1 is not getting a warm reception in liberal America, so it doesn’t matter what unlucky deported residents do or how justified the government is in taking action. Trump and the Republicans will wear the blame.
That will be a problem in November 2018, but does it justify measures like this?
America’s children are America’s mistake
The hype from RAC Act sponsors sounds the same as what we hear from Democrats: this is the only country these people know, it’s not their fault they are here, and they only want to contribute.2
The undocumented are “America’s children” if they meet RAC Act guidelines.3 I’m not sure why I find this so offensive. “America’s mistake” is closer to the truth, but it does point to one big problem with the bill that makes it very wrong.
Why the RAC Act is wrong
The RAC Act creates new phrases for illegal immigrants such as “alien enlistees” if they serve in the military and “alien postsecondary students” if they choose to attend college.4
Aside from the bill’s rhetorical sleight about children, the problem with this is the same mistake we have been making all along: it gives hope. The RAC Act is another reason to come to America and to remain here if you already made the trip.
Any good parent will do anything for their children. Crossing the border illegally is one of those things. The RAC Act residency requirements are going to be lost on those hoping that if they make the journey another bill and another chance will come their way.
The ethics of amnesty
The RAC Act is a plan for Republican amnesty for one group, pure and simple. It’s not a bad one. It tackles the conundrum over what to do with DACA, but how can we do the right thing without giving hope that by crossing our border life will be better for future generations?
Perhaps the solution is to get this done and then slam the door, crack down hard, and clean house. It’s difficult to argue that kids who were dragged here by their parents did anything wrong. They are now de facto Americans. We let it happen, so it’s our mistake. This can’t be a foot-in-the-door bill, though. America needs to set a deadline, enforce the law, and then remove those left out.
That’s how we recognize America, not just our illegal immigrant children.
UPDATE August 26, 2017: Republicans back DACA
With rumors circulating that DACA’s days are numbered, six House Republicans sent a letter to President Trump on August 22, 2017 supporting the program.
The letter warns of $60 billion lost to taxes and defends deferred action with Democratic talking points. No mention is made of the cost of illegal immigration or administering the program. There is no explanation of why some of these individuals “were brought to America as children through no fault of their own”5 but still qualify if they were under 31 years of age as of June 15, 20126 and have done nothing to change their status.
What is the solution suggested by Rep. Denham and his colleagues?
It is in the best interest of our nation to continue DACA until we can pass a permanent legislative solution, such as the Republican-backed Recognizing America’s Children Act.7
UPDATE September 4, 2017: End run around Trump?
Apparently the August 22 letter to President Trump supporting DACA didn’t get the job done. The president will make his announcement about the fate of Obama’s program tomorrow, but no one is expecting him to give it the White House seal of approval.
Likely anticipating the fallout from the cancellation of this Democratic favorite, 10 Republicans sent a second missive on September 1, 2017.8 Four were signers on the August 22 letter. RAC Act sponsor Carlos Curbelo signed both letters, as did cosponsors Jeff Denham, David Valadao, and Don Bacon.
This time the plea to do something about DACA went to Paul Ryan. Both letters used a favorite Democratic Party argument. The August 22 letter declared:
Because they now have work permits, they are making immediate contributions to our society and our economy.9
The September 1, 2017 letter repeated the argument:
DACA recipients have contributed both to the U.S. economy and our society.10
The plan to go around the president is suspicious:
We are willing and ready to find a solution no matter what action is taken by President Trump in the coming days and encourage you [Speaker Paul Ryan] to work with us as soon as possible to do so.11
If these House Republicans get their way, who gets saved? Illegal immigrants and politicians.
Meanwhile, the RAC Act has gone nowhere except the House bureaucracy including the Subcommittees on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Border and Maritime Security, and Immigration and Border Security.
Don’t look for the RAC Act to bail out DACA. Even Trump’s anticipated six-month window for cancelling the program won’t be long enough to push this affront to Republican voters through.
UPDATE September 5, 2017: 6 months to agree on what?
How “willing and ready” are Republicans really? They have six months to figure out how to fix the problem dropped in their laps today by the end of DACA. Their options include the RAC Act, the Bridge Act, and listening to plenty of activists ready to suggest new bills. They also have lots of GOP voters eager to find out how they will approve what is a grant of amnesty no matter how you slice it.
Six months is not very long. My guess is they are looking for a big, shiny can to kick down that legislative street. Bridge Act, anyone?
UPDATE September 9, 2017: Republican amnesty train leaves the station
Who could have guessed that Obama’s executive order would be such a big hit with Republicans? GOP House members are lining up to save what until now was a big thorn in conservative feet and a widely recognized overreach by our last president.
Nevertheless, Washington Rep. Dave Reichert called on Congress to protect the program and come up with a solution that “allows all individuals to pursue the American dream.“12
Citing the RAC Act’s “five year conditional legal status,”13 Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) called the RAC Act a “permanent legal solution” to the DACA problem the president created last week.
Michigan’s Fred Upton co-sponsored the RAC Act and the BRIDGE Act. On the day Trump dumped DACA he remarked:
For these young men and women, the United States is their home. They’ve been raised in our neighborhoods, attended our schools, served in our military, and worked in our communities.14
We’ve heard that one more times than I care to remember, mostly from Democrats before Republicans decided that amnesty is acceptable as long as it isn’t coming from Obama.
So here’s the question: if you weren’t dragged to the U.S. as a child but have lived here illegally for many years, don’t you also consider America to be your home? If we follow Rep. Upton’s reasoning, then it’s not how old you were when you arrived that matters. It’s how long you’ve managed to stay.
1. “Gutierrez on Reports of Deported Dreamer with DACA.” Luis V. Gutierrez. April 19, 2017. https://gutierrez.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/guti-rrez-reports-deported-dreamer-daca, retrieved April 22, 2017.
2. “Curbelo, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Provide Legal Status to Undocumented Children and Young Adults.” Carlos Curbelo. March 10, 2017. http://curbelo.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=1368, retrieved April 20, 2017.
4. “H.R. 1468 – Recognizing America’s Children Act.” Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1468/cosponsors, retrieved April 21, 2017.
5. “Rep. Denham, Colleagues, Send Letter to President Trump Requesting Support for DACA.” Jeff Denham. August 24, 2017. https://denham.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=1972, retrieved August 26, 2017.
6. “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca#guidelines, retrieved August 26, 2017.
7. Denham, Op. cit.
8. “U.S. Rep. McSally Calls on Speaker Ryan to Take Up Legislation Addressing DACA.” Martha McSally. September 1, 2017. https://mcsally.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/us-rep-mcsally-calls-speaker-ryan-take-legislation-addressing-daca, retrieved September 4, 2017.
9. Denham, Op. cit.
10. McSally, Op. cit.
12. “Reichert Urges Protection of DACA Program.” Dave Reichert. September 5, 2017. https://reichert.house.gov/press-release/reichert-urges-protection-daca-program, retrieved September 9, 2017.
13. “Collins Calls for Immediate Congressional Action for Permanent Legal Solution for DACA.” Congressman Chris Collins. September 7, 2017. https://chriscollins.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/collins-calls-for-immediate-congressional-action-for-permanent-legal, retrieved September 9, 2017.
14. “Upton Statement on DACA.” Fred Upton. September 5, 2017. https://upton.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=398869, retrieved September 9, 2017.