Patrick B. McGuigan
This essay consists of not-so-rambling thoughts on immigration policy, driven by recent developments in the news.
I am sometimes frustrated with the operational definitions of certain liberties that seem to animate the contemporary version of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), but I’m glad they exist.
Without the ACLU, the debate over criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, and over immigration policy everywhere, would be incomplete.
I admire the organization’s state chapter for designating “Oklahoma dreamers” as winners of the 2018 Angie Debo Award.
The ACLU’s award is named for a woman who was perhaps the most prominent historian in Oklahoma’s early history (not to mention a member of the ACLU board of directors).
Debo was born in Kansas, but lived mostly in the small Oklahoma community of Marshall.
She was a sometimes-controversial historian during her lifetime (1890-1988). I read many of her seminal works during my years at Oklahoma State University, the institution to which she left her papers, including some unpublished works, when she died.
Debo came to mind frequently as I drove along Highway 51 (which bears her name) going to and from the memorial service for another Marshall woman last week.
Back to the dreamers, I believe Debo would have been proud to know that these aspirants to the American dream won an award bearing her name.
Poll hints Southerners support legal status for undocumented immigrants
A recent NBC News poll found that 69 percent of U.S. southerners favored legalized status for undocumented immigrants.
The opinion survey focused on voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The high support for legal status was not far out of line with nationwide sentiment, the network’s survey found.
This might be considered particularly interesting because assessments of President Donald Trump’s job performance were closely divided in the southern-targeted survey (48 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable).
In national surveys, Trump’s approval/disapproval rankings are more negative. In sum, in a region where he is at least competitive in job approval rankings, the president has many supporters who disagree with him on immigration policy – or so it would seem.
The survey was especially encouraging to those of us hoping the nation will, somehow, step away from direct punishment of young people who were brought into the country illegally long before they were old enough to decide for themselves whether to risk illegal entry.
To be clear, I am here referencing those folks known as “dreamers.”
That designation emerged early this decade, when an unsuccessful effort was made to push legislation known as the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. When that pro-active attempt to grant legal status fell short, President Barack Obama issued a highly controversial executive order. As a policy matter, it was in some respects laudable, but as substantive law it created a whole new set of problems in its bold avoidance of tradition in creation of new law.
As The City Sentinel newspaper reported in March, after taking a negative tone in his 2016 campaign, President Trump said he would support legal status for several hundred thousand of these young people, then extended that as far as 1.8 million.” (http://city-sentinel.com/2018/03/capitol-report-for-march-3-dreamers-get-more-time-school-choice-stalled-by-republican-opposition-re-invited-speaker-coming-to-uco/).
I have faulted Trump for blending the fate of dreamers – for whom he has professed sympathy, with his controversial proposal for a wall along the southern border of the U.S. And worsening the tone of the national dialogue, he has blended the dreamer issues with discussion of murderous Mexican gangsters.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent delay in addressing the status of dreamers, and the validity of Obama’s executive order, has allowed more time to seek a true bipartisan resolution (http://www.news9.com/clip/14171057/capitol-report-whats-next-for-dreamers).
Two stories from OSU
In a recent commentary for O’Colly.com (formerly The Daily O’Collegian), Managing Editor Stetson Payne wrote about two on-campus “dreamers” in Stillwater. He reported, “Emma and Sam are OSU students with legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] executive order. … To protect their safety, the O’Colly is identifying both students only by pseudonyms.”
Payne continued, “Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Emma has been afraid; a deep, crippling fear of tomorrow keeps her from sleeping well. Every knock at the door could mean the end of the life she has known since her third birthday, the end of living in the country she grew up in, the end of an education she is months away from finishing.
All of it could be over at any moment because Emma, an Oklahoma State University student, is undocumented.”
Payne reported (http://www.ocolly.com/news/undocumented-immigrants-fearful-of-deportation-while-attending-osu/article_314d3268-140d-11e7-b277-a3cbad3e4e89.html) that Emma told him, “I went to bed not knowing if I would be here by the end of the week. … I would go to bed checking the news for updates, and I would wake up waiting to be deported. I can’t describe it to you. It’s just this dark place and extremely overwhelming sense of fear and anguish of the unknown.” Emma chose OSU for college after an Obama-era executive order allowed “dreamers” legally to attend colleges and universities.
Payne’s commentary continued, focusing on “Sam,” saying he “commutes from Tulsa for his accounting classes every day. He has called Oklahoma home since his parents moved to Tulsa from California. Before California, Sam’s parents brought him across the border from Mexico when he was 2 without documentation. He has no memory of anything but the United States.
“Until Sam turned 16, he didn’t see his life as different from anyone else’s. It didn’t take long for him to realize the odds were stacked against him. ‘I wasn’t able to get a driver’s permit; I wasn’t able to get that summer job at the mall with my friends,’ Sam said. ‘I realized I couldn’t apply for FAFSA. At that point, the realistic options for college weren’t there.’”
The Obama-era DACA executive order opened the door for Sam to attend Oklahoma State “because of his grades and clean record.” Sam had “a good chance of being approved for a work permit. Even so, he said he remembers the day he got the letter in the mail. ‘I was delighted,’ Sam said. ‘My attorney said I had a high, probable chance of being accepted, but when I did receive the card, I was excited. I could apply to any job I qualified for, and I did.’ “
Sam’s parents came to the U.S. when he was two years old, he became an “Okie” when his parents moved to the state from California, Payne reported in his commentary.
And then, there’s economics
Aside from the morality of crafting a national policy that would boot law-abiding young people (whose “crime” flows from the actions of parents, not their own maneuvers), there are questions of practical economics.
Advocates for “Dreamers” in Oklahoma have circulated graphics illustrating the positive impact of workers who fit the categorization of undocumented. More each day, of course, those workers include dreamers. CapitolBeatOK recently got this note countering what defenders of the undocumented deem myths about these workers:
“Myth or Fact: Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes. MYTH: Undocumented immigrants nationwide pay on average an estimated 8 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes (this is their effective state and local tax rate). To put this in perspective, the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay an average nationwide effective tax rate of just 5.4 percent.
“Myth or Fact: The economy won’t be impacted by the removal of undocumented immigrants. MYTH: If undocumented immigrants are removed, states could potentially lose $11.74 billion in revenue.”
Insights such as these are not surprising, nor are they new. A group known as Interfaith Worker Justice provided a fabulous and factual review of the impact “dreamer” workers have on the Oklahoma Economy.
In a commentary which CapitolBeatOK posted last fall, Tulsan Jennifer Cortes Gray shared this estimate: “Giving the Dreamers this chance would boost our state economy by $575 million over ten years. It would create about 1,000 jobs.”
Summing Up – Friendly counsel from an Independent citizen and voter
Some points bear repeating. Despite the present darkness that animates immigration debates, the future will be different than the present.
I was once a Republican. I am now an independent, so please consider the words that follow as offered in the public interest, and in a bipartisan spirit.
Democrats cannot forever take Hispanic support for granted.
I am mystified that Republicans want to sustain for even one day the anti-immigrant hostility we see presently.
Republicans are foolish to ignore the growing clout and the healthy leavening influence that comes from affirmation and inclusion of immigrants and their children.
If none of this reasoning focuses the mind, how about this:
By 2060, 30 percent of all Americans will be Hispanics (or Latinos, as some prefer). Many of those folks will have been born in Mexico or be the children of Mexicans.
NOTE: A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, McGuigan is a graduate of Bishop McGuinness High School in Oklahoma City, where he covered sports for the school newspaper. He earned his B.A. with Honors in History at Oklahoma State University, a Master of Arts from the same institution, and teacher certification in 10 subject areas. From 1976-80, he wrote frequent commentaries for The Daily O’Collegian, the campus newspaper. McGuigan is the author of three books and editor of seven.