For anyone paying college tuition these days, particularly the extraordinary high private university tuition like at Rice University in Texas, hearing a professor make a clearly false statement on national television is unsettling. Is the professor ignorant and therefore unqualified to be teaching young people? Is the professor so politically entrenched that facts no longer matter and therefore unsuited to be teaching/influencing?
On Friday, Rice University history professor and CNN commentator Douglas Brinkley weighed-in on the DACA debate. He was asked by CNN's Jim Acosta about his views on DACA. But Acosta gave the conversation political spin, saying, "[Y]ou have so many kids affected by this."
Kids? There are extraordinarily few DACA recipients under the age of 21. Many DACA recipients are now 36 years old. They were required to be under 16 when they came to the United States and under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, when the unconstitutional executive action was signed by President Obama. Since they had to be at least 15 years or older to request DACA, only the few who qualified as currently in removal proceedings or having a final removal or voluntary departure order would be under 21 years of age today.
We know very little about the DACA population because the Obama USCIS was very cagey in the data they captured and the data they released. The latest available data is from 2013. Only 277,000 of the 580,000 DACA applicants during the June 2012 to September 2013 period were 19 or under. Interesting that USCIS didn't want to capture the number of those 17 and under. Perhaps they would have found it even more challenging to make it seem like these were children.
Brinkley made his view clear from the start, stating, "I mean, one has to hope that President Trump does the right thing and allows these DACA Dreamers to stay here in the United States." Then he referred to DACA recipients as "American citizens", saying, "These are obviously American citizens who need to be treated as such."
But they are not citizens. Are they voting in federal and state elections? Participating in jury duty? Taking federal jobs? Obtaining citizenship for children born abroad? Words matter and a history professor should be aware of this and the implications.
He made this factually incorrect statement because he wants to legitimize the presence of illegal aliens in the country and to do this he has to lie and paint a false picture of the population. This has been how the immigration debate has been waged for years now.
The truth is that deferred action was an illegal use of prosecutorial discretion by a president who could not convince Congress to pass the DREAM Act. It was abuse of discretion of a size never seen before, an executive overreach that violated the separation of powers. Prior to the executive action, Obama himself said the president did not have the authority. A 2013 CIS blog says it best: "'Prosecutorial discretion' should be conceived of as an occasional act of justical mercy when merited by circumstances — not as a unilateral and blanket declaration."
Prosecutorial discretion was used to provide DACA recipients with deferred removal for a set period of time; it in no way provided lawful status and obviously did not provide U.S. citizenship. But the media and advocacy groups like to change terms and words to misdirect Americans on policy and reality.
Legal language, as found in statute and case law, is important as it has a specific meaning. Advocacy language is meant to persuade and to blur distinctions. There are so many examples: if you don't want people to look like they committed a crime, then you don't want the word illegal used; if you don't want an individual to look like an outsider, then you don't want the word alien used. And if you want it to appear like the debate is over, then you call illegal aliens American citizens. But regardless of the doublespeak, there is a difference between an immigrant and an illegal alien.
Brinkley concludes by saying that with Trump's announcement on DACA we could have a "horrible story unfolding" for a whole class of people. He does not explain how Trump is sending it to Congress, where it should have been in the first place, and giving the legislative branch plenty of time to work out the solution. He is being dishonest by not pointing out that it is extraordinarily unlikely that anyone will be deported at this time. If you didn't know that Trump wants this issue resolved by Congress, you would think, after listening to this man entrusted with our young people, that the president was ordering the whole population deported.
Labels color what we think about people and policies, so journalists and professors should be accurate and factual. I hope Brinkley is not typical of the professors at Rice University. One hopes the students are being taught to think analytically and to base their opinions on fact.