Once upon a time in America, the nation had an insatiable need and appetite for newcomers to contribute the labor necessary to settle its frontiers, build roads and railroads, and staff the machinery of its factories. Westward expansion from the East Coast to areas on the opposite coast was propelled by a public policy called Manifest Destiny (1812-1865).
As the nation’s economic engine matured during the Industrial Revolution, however, its maturation included some side effects toward which a blind eye was turned or, at least, a winking one, marginally focused. In this way, prosperity and progress postponed a direct confrontation with the moral issue of slavery, the importation and acculturation of forced labor, later engulfing the country in a bloody civil war. The census of 1860 enumerated 4 million slaves of a total population of some 30.4 million.
In January 1865, US General William Sherman, in a military field order, created the iconic “forty acres and a mule” offer to newly freed families in the South as a measure of redistribution of lands held by Confederate interests and redemption from the moral quandary. It was a revolutionary and grand idea, ultimately overturned by President Andrew Johnson several months later.
For decades, a national debate has raged over the question of immigration reform leading to yet another layer of blurred vision obscuring yet another underclass of US residents.
The myopia has continued to the present, albeit in a less egregious expanse perhaps than the experience with slavery. For decades, a national debate has raged over the question of immigration reform leading to yet another layer of blurred vision obscuring yet another underclass of US residents. In June 2012 with the approval of President Barack Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a policy memorandum deferring prosecution, i.e., deportation, of individuals who met a certain set of criteria. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) now numbers some 700,000 individuals but offers no path to citizenship. Applicants could be protected by the deferral by demonstrating a record absent any felony or serious misdemeanor (e.g., DUI) convictions and evidence that they were:
- under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012,
- first arrived in the US before their 16th birthdate, and
- currently in school, graduated from high school, or honorably discharged from the military.
The core stumbling block is, of course, whether and how ‘DACAs’ might be granted citizenship. In some respects, their plight is not dissimilar to that of the progeny of the nation’s forced laborers prior to the Civil War. Some critics, however, contend that the majority of DACAs deliberately or intentionally entered the US illegally, no matter their age. Even accepting that proposition, the existence of a large cohort of residents, undocumented, without a path to becoming citizens, presents an existential problem inviting an inventive solution. While the logistics of resettlement might seem daunting, the tradeoff of immediate citizenship for relocation presents a significant inducement: the promise of increased federal funding.
The 700,000 individuals reside in the context of the 327-million-plus figure enumerated by the 2020 census as the total US population, with the largest cohorts residing in CA and TX. Regarding only that proportion, absorption as citizens would appear not to be insurmountable. In fact, the addition to the citizen base could contribute to balancing another inequity in the progress of the nation’s democratic evolution.
The population of the 50 states averages to 752,997 residents for each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives to achieve the gold standard of one person, one vote (OPOV) per house district. Currently, the populations of three states, each with only one member of the House, fall below the OPOV standard by a combined total of over 325,000. Four states, each with only two members of the House, aggregate a shortfall of another 995,000 from OPOV. Combined, the two sets of states present a shortfall of 1.17 million, nearly one half million greater than DACA. The table below illustrates these differences:
State #Rep Population < OPOV
AK 1 731,545 21,452
VT 1 623,489 129,508
WY 1 578,759 174,238
HI 2 1,415,872 90,122
NH 2 1,359,721 146,283
ME 2 1,344,272 161,782
RI 2 1,059,361 446,633
This comparison of a shortfall in democratic equality with respect to OPOV is not intended to suggest a relationship, only a potential for meeting two equitable objectives within a singular solution. The equitable issues to affording citizenship to DACAs is formidable. A match between DACA and a set of states would necessarily be voluntary among the federal government, the states, and the DACA members. The logistics involve yet another host of considerations, e.g., children and spouses of DACAs, including relocation and resettlement costs. At present, the federal transfer of funds to states averages about $7,000 per capita, suggesting that a block grant of funds of $4.9 billion would need to be available. Some savings would accrue over time as the current 700,000 are already counted in the per-capita average for existing programs.
Some will criticize this idea as a kind of forced migration requiring DACAs to surrender their current ties to family and community. On the other hand, the program is now 10 years in existence with little promise of immigration reform necessary to create a fair transition from mere protection against deportation to a stable, secure status.
As DACA enters its second decade of operation and national leadership remains in gridlock over developing avenues of agreement, more children of DACAs will be born and personal ties to present locations will continue to multiply and mature, creating a more difficult web to navigate.
As DACA enters its second decade of operation and national leadership remains in gridlock over developing avenues of agreement, more children of DACAs will be born and personal ties to present locations will continue to multiply and mature, creating a more difficult web to navigate. The data as displayed only point in a direction and are not meant to be literally applied. What is suggested is an option, a voluntary agreement among DACAs, the federal government, and several states. None of the parties has been polled on the potential which, as a mere possibility, is more attractive than the status quo.
Grand ideas such as General Sherman’s have remained too long on the sidelines. DACA needs a grand approach. American exceptionalism prides itself on innovation as a core value of progress, prosperity, and promise. The rule of law is not without exception for mercy or pardon.