DACA and justice

About 800,000 people are “DREAMers”–enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). They are subject to deportation unless Congress reverses Donald Trump’s executive order rescinding DACA. Their cases represent 800,000 potential tragedies. When so many people are faced with such brutal and deliberate hardship, it can seem bloodless to consider subtle theoretical questions–especially when one isn’t personally threatened.

But politics is often a matter of life and death, and it’s important to debate abstract issues of justice as long as one also retains empathy and commitment. A refusal to address contrary arguments can come across as fear that those arguments may actually be right. Here are some thoughts on three issues that have come up in the debates so far.

Does amnesty violate the rule of law?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the rule of law when he announced that DACA would be rescinded:

No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our Republic, than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law. Societies where the rule of law is treasured are societies that tend to flourish and succeed.

Societies where the rule of law is subject to political whims and personal biases tend to become societies afflicted by corruption, poverty, and human suffering.

To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. That is an open border policy and the American people have rightly rejected it.

Therefore, the nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year and that means all can not be accepted.

This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way. It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them.

It is with these principles and duties in mind, and in light of imminent litigation, that we reviewed the Obama Administration’s DACA policy.

Here Sessions echoes prevalent talking points on the anti-immigration side. The idea is that it’s illegal to bring a child here without authorization; and for the government to ignore illegality is to erode the rule of law, which is a buttress of the republic. Sessions cites the fact that President Obama enacted DACA by unilateral executive order as additional evidence that the policy is arbitrary.

I endorse the rule of law as an aspect of justice. But I think Tyler Cowan offers the right response to Sessions’ argument:

What is striking about immigration, and immigration policy, is the very simple but oft neglected fact that it concerns human bodies. Any exercise of immigration law thus requires some violence, either explicit or implicit, against those bodies. It will mean the rounding up and forcible restraint of bodies, the widespread use of prisons and other coercive holding chambers, and tearful scenes of airport separation. Those methods will be applied to individuals who do not enjoy the full protections of the U.S. Constitution, who are vulnerable to mistreatment during the process, and who do not always have full fluency in the English language or a full understanding of their legal rights. … A somewhat lax enforcement of immigration restrictions is in fact the friend of the future of the rule of law, not the enemy.

If you have faith in the government to execute laws impartially and efficiently, you could conclude that rule-of-law arguments support deporting people who are present in the United States against the law. (You might think that even if you also see stronger reasons to support DACA). On the other hand, if you doubt that our actual government can deport hundreds of thousands of people without demonstrating partiality, without committing arbitrary violence, and without violating legal rights, then the way to preserve rule of law is to offer amnesty. This is a point where insights from classical liberalism and Public Choice theory are pertinent.

In Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt defines citizenship as “the right to have rights.” Without DACA, DREAMers are people inside the United States who have no right to have rights. That status threatens the rule of law for all. Removing them is not only cruel but also impossible to accomplish without permitting the state to act lawlessly against a large category of people. In principle, a wise state could follow its own laws as it made decisions about people who lacked rights. A real state will surely not do that.

Is migration an intrinsic human right?

Arendt argues that everyone must be a citizen somewhere; statelessness is a profound human rights violation. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has a right to be a citizen anywhere.

If you believe that every human being has a right to reside anywhere, then the DREAMers should obviously not be deported. Neither should anyone else, nor should anyone be stopped at any border.

For my own part, I don’t believe it. There are many countries where I would like to be able to live and work, but I think I have a moral (as well as a legal) obligation to follow the immigration laws of those countries. They have a right to keep me out unless I am a refugee in immanent danger. My reason for being highly sympathetic to migrants to the USA, regardless of their legal status, is that I regard US relations with many of their home countries as unjust. I don’t see their decision to move to the US as simply “free,” because the economic and political conditions in their home countries were beyond their own control and are sometimes the result of US foreign policy. When, however, highly educated citizens of wealthy nations sneak into the US illegally, I am unsympathetic.

Most Americans do not share this worldview. Quite the contrary: they believe that we are generous with foreign aid and brave in defending democracy abroad. This premise is factually incorrect, but skepticism about immigration follows logically enough from it.

Is there a basis for distinguishing the DREAMers from other undocumented residents?

Perhaps we are debating DACA separately right now because of sheer political necessity. There is no immediate opportunity to accomplish a reform that would cover people other than the DREAMers. The DREAMers won precarious rights through DACA that Congress is actually considering enacting by statute. That would be half a loaf, but it’s better than none.

If the reason to separate DREAMers from other undocumented immigrants is nothing but political necessity, it’s important to say so publicly and clearly. Otherwise, we might inadvertently justify denying rights to other people, including the DREAMers’ parents. We might allow that distinction to harden.

It’s clear that the DREAMers have won more public support than other immigrant groups. One explanation could be their own skillful, innovative, and courageous organizing. I suspect two other reasons as well. First, people who’ve lived in the US since their childhood are especially likely to suffer if they are suddenly deported; and suffering is to be avoided. That is a utilitarian rationale for offering a unique policy to DREAMers. But clearly, DREAMers are not the only people who suffer from deportation (or the threat of it), and some may suffer more.

A different argument involves intention. Since the DREAMers did not choose to immigrate, they should not be held responsible for their parents’ choices. I’m sure that this argument is widely held, but it is problematic. It assumes that adults’ choices to migrate were free (in a morally relevant sense), and it justifies imposing very dire penalties on individuals because they were adults when they migrated.

Both arguments have some plausibility, but neither really justifies a bright line between the DREAMers and other undocumented residents. If it’s a matter of justifiable expediency to single out the DREAMers, we should constantly say so.

Transparency International School on Integrity 2018

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Trump’s approval rating as a case study in public opinion

Donald Trump’s popularity is really quite stable. For a while, it looked as if he was losing a point or so per month, but that trend has reversed. From the perspective of January 2018, the flatness of the line is striking.

Then again, presidential popularity is usually correlated with economic performance. A strong correlate of approval for an incumbent president is satisfaction with the direction of the country. Since the economy is humming along and satisfaction with the direction of the country is modestly risingone would expect Trump’s popularity to be 7-17 percentage points higher than it is.

To be clear, I don’t think that the economy is producing fair results. But historically, measures like satisfaction and consumer optimism usually correlate with presidential approval. Trump has broken that pattern.

Also, a prevailing model in political science holds that our demographic identities come first. They lead us to affiliate with political parties that seem to represent or encompass those identities. Our attitudes toward politicians are then strongly colored by our partisan affiliations.  But party identification sometimes changes faster than the demographic composition of the country. I’ve created the following graph of party affiliation using Gallup data (moving averages over 7 months). It shows that there’s not been that much change over time–the y-axis goes from 20%-50%–but Republican identification (the red line) has fallen since Trump was elected. First Independents (gray) seemed to gain at the expense of Republicans and Democrats, but lately it’s been Democrats (blue) who have increased their share.

I’d conclude that underlying factors–demographics, economics, and partisanship–do explain most of a president’s support. But they don’t fully explain it, and Donald Trump is demonstrating that you can alienate a lot of people from yourself and your party if you really act like a jerk. This is kind of a perverse finding (doing a very bad job can cause damage), but it’s still evidence that rhetoric and intentional action matter, regardless of what else is happening in the world. It lends support to a theory I have long suspected: agency is often hard to detect because most people who lead major organizations and movements are pretty competent, and their efforts tend to cancel out. Trump is an exception that shows that intentional behavior and competence mattered all along.

If the economy continues to prosper and Trump doesn’t behave even worse, I suspect we will see some improvement in his popularity. The underlying circumstances will count more and more. On the other hand, if the economy hits some bumps, he’s vulnerable. (But that is truly not to be wished for, because too many people will suffer.)

MetroQuest Hosts Facing Contention Webinar, Jan. 30th

Coming up at the end of January, NCDD member org MetroQuest will be hosting the webinar, Facing Contention – How to Detox Public Engagement; co-sponsored by NCDD, IAP2, and the American Planning Association (APA).  If you are looking to improve public engagement processes around controversial projects, then make sure you register ASAP to join the webinar.  We encourage you to read the announcement from MetroQuest below or you can find the original here.

MetroQuest Webinar: Facing Contention – How to Detox Public Engagement

Are you looking for effective ways to collect meaningful and constructive public input for controversial projects?

Tuesday, January 30th
11 am Pacific | 12 pm Mountain | 1 pm Central | 2 pm Eastern (1 hour)
Educational Credit Available (CM APA AICP)
Complimentary (FREE)


Jeanette Janiczek from the City of Charlottesville with Jonathan Whitehurst and Sal Musarra from Kimley-Horn and Associates will discuss their success with an innovative approach to public involvement on the contentious Belmont Bridge Replacement project.

Numerous forces have combined recently to create an increasingly toxic and adversarial climate for public engagement. These patterns and their effects are being felt across the country and its planners and community engagement staff who increasingly find themselves on the front lines of this conflict. Finding ways to design and manage public engagement efforts to maintain a respectful and productive dialog and collect meaningful and constructive public input is more important than ever.

This highly-visual webinar will showcase the Belmont Bridge Replacement case study along with proven best practices, research findings, and practical tips to guide agencies towards the successful application of community engagement on hot button and contentious projects.

Attend this complimentary 1-hour webinar to learn how to …

  • Create public engagement process to mitigate tensions
  • Engage more people from a broader demographic to hear diverse viewpoints
  • Collect informed and constructive public input on contentious topics
  • Get past entrenched positions to understand community priorities
  • Work with opposing groups to create a more harmonious outcome

You can find the original version of this announcement on MetroQuest’s site at http://go.metroquest.com/Belmont-Bridge-Kimley-Horn-Webinar.

Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit

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PBP Opening for PhDs as Participation Design Strategist

There is an exciting opportunity for recent PhDs to work with NCDD member org, Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) and help strengthen participatory democracy! PBP recently announced they have an opening as a Participation Design Strategist, part of the Mellow/ACLS Public Fellows program, for those who are new PhDs. The deadline to apply is March 14th, 2018 for the position, and we hope some NCDDers will apply (by clicking here)! You can read more information on the fellowship opening in the post below or find the original here. Good luck to all applicants!

Mellon/ACLS Fellowship Opening – Participation Design Strategist

At the Participatory Budgeting Project, we’re pleased to announce that we have been selected by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) as a host organization for the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows Program, a career-building fellowship initiative designed to expand the reach of doctoral education in the humanities. In 2018, the Public Fellows program will place up to 25 recent PhDs from the humanities and humanistic social sciences in two-year staff positions at partnering organizations in government and the nonprofit sector. Fellows will participate in the substantive work of these organizations and will receive professional mentoring, an annual stipend of $67,500, and health insurance.

The application deadline is March 14, 2018 (9pm EDT). For more information, please visit http://www.acls.org/programs/publicfellowscomp/.

Fellowship Details
Position Title:
Participation Design Strategist

Position Description:
We are seeking a Participation Design Strategist to work in PBP’s Participation Lab, one of our three program areas. The Lab evaluates, researches, and develops tools and practices to make participatory budgeting and democracy work better. The strategist will work closely with other staff and partners to develop and test strategies that improve PBP’s services and PB processes. Through this work the strategist will identify and help implement design solutions that enable participatory democracy to grow and scale, and that advance equity, diversity, and inclusion in civic participation. This will include close collaboration with government and nonprofit staff, community leaders, and user design experts.

This position is great preparation for those interested in a career in the nonprofit or public sectors, including in user experience design, human centered design, public participation, civic engagement, program evaluation, service delivery, or public administration. This is a new position that expands PBP’s capacity to make data-informed design decisions as well as to keep pace with the increasing volume and diversity of communities excited about deepening local democracy. See the full job posting here.

  • Stipend: $67,500 per year, with health insurance coverage for the fellow, a relocation allowance, and up to $3,000 in professional development funds over the course of the fellowship
  • Tenure: Two years; start date on August 1 or September 1, 2018, depending on the fellowship position
  • Applications will be accepted only through the ACLS Online Fellowship Application system (ofa.acls.org). The system will open on January 4, 2018.
  • Application deadline: March 14, 2018, 9pm EDT
  • Notification of application status will occur by email starting late-May 2018.

Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows is a fellowship program offered by the American Council of Learned Societies and is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Please direct all inquiries about the fellowship program to ACLS.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/mellon-fellowship/

ICT Facilitation of Citizen Participation, Open Government, and Public Service Delivery in Madrid

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