For over sixteen years, senators and congressmen have been trying to pass bills giving legal status to people who illegally immigrated to the United States as children. The latest iteration had a name with the initials D.R.E.A.M., so the beneficiaries of the proposed law became known as “DREAMers.” When the DREAM Act died in the Senate in 2010, President Obama circumvented Congress and unilaterally granted nearly 800,000 DREAMers the right to live and work in America. The Obama Administration called this move DACA or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”
The Trump administration recently announced that it would phase out DACA. The White House emphasized that it would not target DREAMers for deportation and that it would allow many DREAMers to renew their legal status for another two-year term. Since the president’s announcement, he has even suggested that he will extend DREAMers’ temporary legal status again and again until Congress grants them permanent relief.
Despite the complexity of the facts, celebrities rushed to Twitter to accuse the president of evil, prejudice and cowardice. Mia Farrow and Morgan Fairchild re-tweeted a Washington Post article called “Ending DACA would be Trump’s most evil act.” Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted, “The bad man [Trump] continues to do bad.” Fifth Harmony singer Lauren Jauregui added a little more vitriol, telling the president, “You disgust me. You and your squad of Republican elite/cowards are truly sick humans.” Movie executive Franklin Leonard made a not-so-subtle racism accusation: “Jim Crow was the rule of law too.” Bernie Sanders calls the administration’s move “one of the ugliest and cruelest decisions ever made by a president in modern history.” Michael Moore claims that protesting the end of DACA is necessary “if we are ever to be a decent country.”
DREAMers are a sympathetic group, and their advocates are clearly motivated by compassion. But are critics of the DREAM Act and DACA motivated by cruelty?
According to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, compassion is only one of several distinct foundations of morality. Those who support ending DACA are not fighting to spread evil in the world. They are, instead, drawing their conclusions from different moral foundations. Haidt, a political liberal, explains in his book, The Righteous Mind, that people on the left tend to emphasize liberty and caring in their moral reasoning. Political conservatives, on the other hand, make their moral judgments based on a wider range of moral criteria. Liberty and caring are important factors for conservatives too, but so are fairness, loyalty and respect for authority.
If you read what DACA critics are writing, you’ll find arguments based on all these moral foundations. For example, on fairness: It’s not fair that the children of illegal immigrants should get more privileges than the children of people who followed the rules. Loyalty: As Americans, we need to watch out for Americans first, and every university spot or job taken by a DREAMer is a position an American cannot have. Respect for authority: Everybody—including the president—should obey the law, and the law currently does not allow DREAMers to live or work in the US. While these arguments are not unassailable, they are hardly rooted in cruelty and racism.
Lefty celebrities and Democratic politicians would convince more people of the worthiness of their cause if they acknowledged the moral validity of some of the arguments against DACA and made the case that, in this specific instance, compassion should prevail over other moral considerations. Until tweeting celebs realize they don’t have the morality market cornered, the breach between Hollywood and Middle America will only widen.
Image: Ellis Island Immigration Museum – NPS.gov