Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: Despite wide public support for Dreamers, Congress fails them

Demonstrators hold illuminated signs during a rally supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington on Jan. 18.

Is everything a transaction? Is everything a deal? Do we do anything in this country any more because it’s the right thing to do, and not because it means a win, or because it helps some politician save face? And when did we become so callous as to be unidentifiable as Americans?

I am sick to my son-of-an-immigrant core with the haggling over the Dreamers — the hundreds of thousands of young men and women, and boys and girls, the children of undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them into the country before 2007.


These kids grew up in the United States. They went to our schools. They learned to speak English. Though it was risky to do so, some of them found jobs as teenagers.

More of them went to work in 2012, after President Barack Obama established the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program protects Dreamers from deportation and allows them to obtain work permits. Some 20,000 immigrants under DACA are now employed as schoolteachers, according to an estimate by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank that studies the movement of people across the globe.


The United States is the country the Dreamers know. They should be forgiven their unwitting trespasses and put on a path to citizenship, instead of having to worry about being deported to native countries.

Nathaly Uribe Robledo, a 23-year-old Dreamer who works for an insurance agency in a Baltimore suburb, worries about that. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Chile when she was 2 years old. When she was old enough to understand, they told her about their undocumented status and what that meant. It meant being careful about where you traveled and what you did. It meant missing out on things. It meant worrying about being caught and deported.

Obama’s order changed a lot of that. “Because of DACA we were able to come out of the shadows,” Uribe Robledo says. “We felt we had safety [from deportation] and security, and I could do things — like take a job, get my driver’s license — I couldn’t do when I was a teenager.”

Of course, unless Congress acts to make DACA’s protections permanent, Uribe Robledo and hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers could find themselves being deported — something most Americans would not want.

Polls show overwhelming support for allowing Dreamers to stay, work, go to school, take up surfing, or whatever, on their way to citizenship. The support runs to between 80 percent and 90 percent of Americans in several nationwide surveys, including a FOX News poll.

Most Americans appreciate and desire governance based on common sense and fairness, which explains the strong support for DACA.

But instead of having this matter resolved by now — Obama’s program made permanent — the Dreamers have become a chip in a Washington poker game between Democrats and Republicans. And, so far, neither party is inclined to stand up for the Dreamers and a principle that millions of Americans support.

Republicans and their erratic president talk a good game about loving the Dreamers, but won’t settle the matter without attaching all kinds of strings to a deal in Congress. Democrats started to take a stand on DACA, but it caused the government to shut down for a couple of days, so they backed off. They made a calculation: Americans would not stand for shutting down the government over undocumented immigrants.


True. While most Americans enjoy griping about “the government” at all levels — complaining about inefficiencies and waste, or incompetence, or corruption, or stupid laws and regulations — most of those same Americans think it foolish and counterproductive to shut the government down, for any reason short of a disaster.

So, Democrats backed off. They are sympathetic to the cause but decided the Dreamers were not worth a government shutdown. And now the party leadership is getting slammed for getting rolled, or being spineless.

I don’t think they had much choice. They were dealing, after all, with Republicans, and that party is far less worried about how a government shutdown plays with its base.

Republican hand-wringing over the shutdown was a joke. Remember: This is the party that shut down the government for 16 days in 2013 so that millions of Americans might be deprived of health insurance. The party is heavily influenced by anti-government (and anti-immigrant) extremists and led by a know-nothing president who has installed a ring of saboteurs to run federal agencies. Donald J. Trump did not lose sleep over the shutdown.

So, after all that, DACA is still not settled, and the fate of the Dreamers looks even more dubious. It’s cruel.

All this back and forth — the two-bit political realism, the calling out of winners and losers, the phony deal-making, everything cold and transactional, nothing noble or transformative — reinforces the public’s low opinion of Congress and Trump. If they can’t do right on DACA, what can they do?