When Morality Is More Important Than Data

September 7, 2017

In the current debate on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, the data shouldn’t matter. And I say this as a confirmed data geek: My job at the Roosevelt Institute is the fourth think tank job that I’ve had, and in grad school I had three semesters of econometrics. But in this fight, morality and decency matter more than the data—even when the data is with the DREAMers.

Thankfully, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement earlier this week that the federal government is rescinding DACA in six months was met with derision from Republicans and Democrats alike. This reaction, however, was not universal; Sessions seemed giddy making the announcement, and Breitbart quickly touted the AG’s anti-immigrant bona fides. But opposition to the announcement was the rule rather than the exception. Some policymakers who expressed anger over the decision had at one time (or more) voted against a legislative version of DACA, calling into question whether or not their remarks truly reflect what they believe or where they think the political winds are blowing.

DREAMers protected under DACA must have been brought to the United States before they were 16 years old, and are required to meet other eligibility criteriaOne study found that the average age of arrival in the United States was six and a half. The moral underpinning of the program is that these individuals did not have agency over their families’ decision to come to the United States illegally or to remain even after their visas or work permits expired. The logical and ethical bottom line is that DACA recipients should not be legally held accountable for any decisions their parents made.

It’s now up to Congress to create a legislative avenue for DACA recipients to remain in the US—which for many of them is the only country they’ve ever known. In the coming months, advocates will make many persuasive arguments for why DACA should be codified into statute. As we’ve already seen, one core message is that ending DACA permanently will harm the US economy—a fact that analysts on both the right and the left agree on. Others will tell stories of heroic DACA recipients, some literally giving their lives for others, to build a narrative that portrays the group as worthy of staying in the US, or at least deserving of a pathway to citizenship.

These stories and the data are necessary parts of the debate, but we must never lose sight of the most important reason for fighting for DACA recipients: a basic sense of decency and respect that we owe to other human beings. This fight has nothing to do with whether or not someone economically benefits us or has taken heroic measures in service of others to prove their worth. If we can’t muster morality for kids who didn’t know where they were going or why, then we have failed them and ourselves. It is essential that we lead with integrity and ethics in our advocacy. That the data is on our side isn’t the headline, it’s just an added convenience.