Biden is lurching right on immigration. Democrats must be the party of Dreamers | Chris Newman

Last Updated: June 22, 2024By

Embracing the Legacy of Daca: Biden’s Choice on Immigration

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Joe Biden is making a grave error by shifting right on immigration, moving away from his base towards Donald Trump and the Republicans. By trying to appear tough at the border, ending asylum and cutting back on immigrants’ rights, he seems to forget what happened when a Democratic president strongly supported immigrants.

It was a dozen years ago, in the summer of an election year, when Barack Obama took bold action to expand rights for a generation of undocumented immigrants. It was a move that resonated deeply and positively impacted his reelection campaign.

That move was Daca – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Daca provided protection from deportation and work permits for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers. It was a landmark moment in immigration policy, a stark contrast to today’s harsh rhetoric.

Throughout US history, immigrants have struggled for recognition and legal status, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 to today’s debates. Irish, Italians, Jews, and others fought for their place, just as Dreamers did. Presidential leadership played a crucial role.

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Teaching a course at UCLA during the Covid lockdown, I saw firsthand how Daca shaped US immigration policy. Many of my students, themselves Dreamers, understood its significance and its place in the ongoing battle for immigrant rights. Despite periodic waves of xenophobia and nationalism, presidents have often expanded inclusion and prosperity.

On June 15, 2012, Obama defied advice and announced Daca in the Rose Garden. Despite initial resistance, it proved a political masterstroke, rallying Latino voters and unsettling opponents. Even Fox News’s Sean Hannity shifted his stance.

Daca wasn’t just a presidential gift; it was a hard-won victory. Dreamers pushed for it tirelessly, using civil disobedience and protests to demand recognition. They showed Obama that he had the power to act and protect.

Unlike Biden’s current stance, Obama initially pursued tough deportation policies before embracing Daca. His administration’s enforcement measures earned him the title “Deporter-in-Chief,” alienating some supporters.

Obama’s attempts to negotiate comprehensive immigration reform with Republicans backfired, leading to record deportations without progress on broader reform. His shift did little to appease critics and emboldened hardline opponents.

By conceding ground on immigration, Democrats gained little and emboldened Republicans to adopt harsher stances. Each compromise fed into Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, undermining Democrats’ clarity on the issue.

The lesson of Daca is clear: courage and action define progress. Biden has the opportunity to embrace this legacy, stand with immigrants, and reshape America’s narrative on immigration. It’s a pivotal moment for our democracy.

If Biden heeds this call, history will remember his courage. Like Obama before him, Biden can redefine American identity and safeguard its future. The choice is his, and the nation waits to see if he will rise to the occasion.

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