Shades of Gray Complicate the Media's Immigration Narrative

By Dan Cadman on March 19, 2018

A reporter with the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently asked the Center for comments on the impending possibility — perhaps even likelihood — that Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians would be ended by the Trump administration, which would be in line with what the administration has been doing with various other, similar programs.

I was asked to respond on behalf of the Center. The reporter is someone I've dealt with on at least one prior occasion. I have no particular beef with her or with the newspaper, but I do know that in matters involving immigration, both she and the paper lean toward what might be called the cuddly human interest "migrant living in fear" angle.

I often feel, when speaking with reporters, that we on the pro-immigration-enforcement side of the equation are asked our views in a very pro forma way; we are a box that must be checked on the road to reportorial "balance" even though the sympathetic-to-aliens style and tone of the piece was decided long before anyone heard what we had to say.

It's understandable; there are, after all, human beings behind each and every immigration story. This isn't something unknown to current and former immigration officers whose work involves, or involved, such individuals each and every working day.

But such stories, notwithstanding the best of humanitarian intent, lack subtlety — they don't provide the shades of gray that give one a truer sense of the immigration realities confronting our nation today, realities that immigration officers and agents understand in ways that journalists who get to pick and choose stories cannot, or choose not to, fathom.

Honestly, and in fairness to the reporter, the story about Liberians under the DED program quotes me more extensively than I expected. I don't suppose that the journalist or newspaper had to go any farther; after all, that's an editorial call. But it doesn't, in my view, go far enough.

For that reason, and because I have a minor bully pulpit of my own via this blog, I'm going to reproduce my comments to the reporter in full here:

You have compared DED to TPS. In practical effect, that may be true — but unlike TPS, it has no statutory basis at all within the Immigration and Nationality Act. It was a creation of a prior presidential administration based on the same vague notion that later resulted in the Obama administration's initiation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): that of "prosecutorial discretion".

Many observers have questioned the legitimacy of a program that, while on its surface claims to be applying discretion on a case-by-case basis, in fact provides a blanket de facto amnesty to large swathes of individuals. It stands the notion of "discretion" on its head by becoming the rule as opposed to the exception for the covered classes of individuals.

However, notwithstanding its lack of a basis in statute, DED is similar to TPS in that, despite the idea that it is a "temporary" reprieve, it has in fact existed for years and years — something not lost on the American people, and exactly the kind of thing that erodes confidence in the rule of law.

The dilemma for the Trump administration where Liberian DED is concerned is that it rests on the same principle of prosecutorial discretion as DACA. As you know, the administration ordered DACA ended on a phase-out basis and, although the actual termination is now a matter for the federal courts (most probably ultimately the Supreme Court) to decide in the course of litigation, in order for the administration to be legally consistent and avoid undercutting its own argument that DACA was an executive excess in the first place, it may feel obliged to do the same thing by ending Liberian DED.

But putting aside the legal arguments, there are also sound reasons to end DED for Liberians. The country of Liberia has confronted — and overcome — great crises in past years, including civil war, political strife, and a health pandemic. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the immediate past president (and the first female leader of an African nation) guided her country through these crises, and although she has had her critics it was her leadership that brought the country through them successfully. Among her most significant achievements, though, was her willingness to leave office and ensure a free and fair democratic election, which saw her predecessor (from a different political party) chosen for the presidency. All of this has set Liberia on a path forward that many other nations should envy.

Even the respected online Liberian journal FrontPageAfrica has spoken in favor of the repatriation of Liberians living in the United States under protection of DED. To quote in pertinent part:

[T]here is something that is wrong with this whole anxious tendency by Liberians to designate their entire lives to living in America and other developed as well as, in some cases, underdeveloped countries. ... These Liberians surviving on TPS and living at the mercy of DED are not in the best interest of the foreign policy of Liberia. Some may argue that the remittances they send home here are helping relatives and the economy in general, but that is certainly not the case. Technically speaking, their prolong[ed] stay in the United States is costing the country its progress and development.

Critics often suggest that our immigration system is broken. I am by no means sure that is true, but if so, it is only to the extent that politicians and political leaders insist on bending the law to the breaking point. DED, which was intended to be a temporary measure, has now been on autopilot for a significant number of years. It is time to end the program; if there is to be further reprieve, then it must be found legislatively through the Congress — and if that cannot be accomplished, then that, too, is a legitimate answer and the individuals who enjoyed the many unexpected years of extension should plan to return to Liberia where their many skills and collective efforts can be used to better Liberian society.

It is the decision to not include within the Star Tribune article that part of my commentary in which I cite FrontPageAfrica that bothers me the most.

But then, I suppose quoting a respected Liberian journal that itself calls for the repatriation of Liberians and an end to DED would have undercut the whole intent of the article, which was to sway hearts and minds in Minneapolis-St. Paul, if not beyond, and once again leave its readers with the impression of underdogs facing a mighty, draconian machine that grinds up the lives of innocents.