Does Strong Border Enforcement Stimulate DACA Applications? I Think So

By David North, January 21, 2014

There has been a remarkable differential by nationality in the percentage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligibles who have come forward.

For example, according to a recent American Immigration Council article, while about 65 percent of eligible Mexican nationals have filed for DACA, only 34 percent of Korean and 17 percent of Filipino eligibles have applied.

Why these dramatic differences?

Patrick Taurel, the article's author, has some interesting theories, such as the historic fact that Mexican nationals benefitted a lot more from the earlier IRCA than other groups. That makes sense, but what hits me is that populations that have experienced the tougher enforcement programs at the border are much more likely to pay attention to DACA than those who became illegal by abusing their nonimmigrant visas — a variable he does not mention.

Putting it another way, if the illegal alien only has had the bland experiences of getting through the airport with a then-valid document and then the unremarkable life of an illegal alien in the interior (where enforcement is just about nil except for a few criminals) they do not take their illegal status very seriously. Those who have tangled with the southern border, or who live with people who have done so, however, pay attention to such matters and have moved to take advantage of DACA.

It is, if you think about it, a strong argument for strong enforcement — everywhere, not just at the border. That's my take, not Taurel's.

Here's an extract from his article:

Further, gathering a critical mass of applicants is a key. When enough members of a community go through the DACA process and come out on the other side not only without a deportation order ... but with tangible benefits like work authorization, those individuals turn into walking testimonials .... This domino effect may help explain the relatively high application rates in the Mexican, Honduran [61 percent], Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran communities ... and it certainly doesn't account for outliers like Dominicans whose application rate is only 14 percent.

My theory neatly explains why Dominicans apply at about a quarter the rate of Mexicans and Hondurans. The former Hispanic group, unlike the others noted, are primarily visa abusers, not EWIs (Entry Without Inspection). With the exception of a handful of boat people, Dominicans have to fly to the States; they do not have the option of walking across our southern border.

There's another variable that Taurel does not mention, which may have a bearing on these participation rates. He is comparing the solid numbers that come out of USCIS about the numbers of DACA applications by nation of origin to the estimated numbers of eligibles by nationality. If the government is underestimating the number of Mexican illegals or overestimating the number of Asian ones, then the resulting ratios will be off kilter in the direction already noted.

Taurel notices — as I did a quarter of a century ago when I studied the implementation of the IRCA legalization for the Ford Foundation — that Hispanic community organizations and the very active network of Mexican consulates have both rallied around the DACA cause and have effectively encouraged Hispanic illegals to apply. There is nothing comparable going on within Asian communities.

He also makes the sociological/cultural point that being in illegal status is not a matter of shame in the Hispanic populations, but is within Asian communities. So, there is a lower proportion of Asian than Hispanic applicants. That may well be the case, but I have no way of judging it.

My policy sense is that it is better to have the illegal alien population feeling insecure, as that would discourage new illegal arrivals, and these data suggest that there is not much insecurity within the visa-abusing communities. Thus, more enforcement applied to that population would be in the public interest.

By the way, one way that the administration could stir up more DACA applications would be to revive some of those Bush-era factory raids in places where visa abusers concentrate, like East Coast cities. And then deport the illegals found working in the factories. It certainly would stimulate DACA applications, but don't count on it happening.